I commonly see frustrations of Facebook friends lamenting about their flights schedule change with whatever airline that now will leave them with a very inconvenient rescheduled flight. Many travel pros have dealt with this enough where they know how to handle this, but it certainly is not intuitive to the average traveler.
Does it suck when this happens? Yes, absolutely! But there is actually some good news as you have more rights as a passenger than you may realize.
How to handle a rescheduled flight
There is a lot at play here, including each airlines policies. But I’m going to focus this post on the general tips of how to deal with a rescheduled flight and then do a future post on the biggest airlines policies (and update this post once done).
Tip #1: Always monitor your flights, especially international
I cannot stress this enough. Airlines are theoretically supposed to notify you when there’s a flight change. In reality, I find I get notified 75% of the time. And when I do actually get notified it’s usually weeks to months after the change actually happened, which can limit your options.
My suggestion is to check your flights once a month, especially if they are international or complex. Yes, this can be a pain. But nobody, especially the airlines, care as much as you do about getting to your destination on time.
Tip #2: Do not accept changes
Once you accept changes on an airlines website, or anywhere else, you have effectively lost any rights. You said it was fine and you can’t go back and say “oh actually I really do need a non-stop”.
Tip #3: Research each airlines policy
Each airline has different policies, and not surprisingly, they can be hard to find. But keep in mind even if you technically fall outside these policies you still may be able to get an exception with a sympathetic agent if you don’t like the flight change for various reasons – which you should be prepared to explain. (I will update this with a link to my future post with each airlines policy when done)
Tip #4: Research what option you would prefer
Airlines are going to rebook you into some completely random flight that are often (as seen in the above example) completely unrealistic for your travel plans. This is despite airlines having published minimum connection times (MCT). MCT for every airport is different but it’s worth googling so you are aware of the minimum time you need to transfer.
Once you know the MCT, or what you would feel comfortable with, start to research other options. Depending on the airline, and the flexibility of each, you may be able to get them to open award space on a different flight, change from a connecting flight to a non-stop, etc.
Have your ideal flight ready but also a couple options that you know you can get switched to as well.
Tip #5: Call and ask for what you want, politely but firmly
Like anytime when dealing with a phone agent, be friendly and polite, but not afraid to advocate for yourself. I’m a big believer in you get more bees with honey than vinegar. I try to make a personal connection with the phone agent, explain why the schedule change is inconvenient, and present them with the options that will work best for me.
Be prepared to quote from the airlines policy directly and don’t be afraid to do two things:
- Politely ask for a supervisors approval “if the system doesn’t allow you to do this is there any way a supervisor could approve it?”. And again state why you need your preferred flight.
- “HUACA” – hang up and call again. None of us want to do this but often if you get an agent who you can tell will not try to find creative options it’s the best thing you can do.
Ultimately though, always be realistic. If your original flight was an economy itinerary from LHR-ORD-LAX and the change is getting you in 2 hours and 15 minutes later you are not going to convince any agent to get you on the LHR-LAX non-stop in business class. Ask for the non-stop in the same cabin? Absolutely! But don’t push it and waste both you and the phone agent’s time on something unreasonable.
Tip #6: Maybe even get a refund!
Yup, with the right schedule change you may even be able to get a full refund for your ticket. This can be huge when maybe prices have gone down, you can really leverage that rescheduled flight.
Real Life Example
My mom and I were having breakfast and discussing her upcoming Europe trip. Her and my stepdad have business class award travel booked (that she did all on her own, go mom!). The routing was on American via JFK back from Europe, with a stop in Las Vegas, then home to Phoenix. Due to the sad state of American’s domestic availability this was the best they could do at booking.
Well, their flight got rescheduled so instead of a short layover in Las Vegas they had an overnight layover in Las Vegas, on the return from Europe. As you can imagine, that was not a desirable change. She called American and was able to advocate for herself to get the following:
- Original flight: Layovers at JFK and LAS from Europe. Business class. With the schedule change the LAS layover was now overnight, getting them home 10 hours later, the following morning.
- New flight: Kept business class from Europe but now routing through Miami (same plane type) and then getting a nonstop from Miami to Phoenix (albeit in economy).
This new flight allows them to avoid JFK in the wintertime. It also reduces the trip to one stop, and the flight to Miami is a bit longer, giving them more time to enjoy the longhaul business class product. Now, the negative is, despite calling two agents, neither one was willing to open business class space on the MIA-PHX flight. However, the second agent did assign them the two most desirable exit row seats on the A321 at no additional cost. So even though they will be in economy it will just be the two of them in their row.
With this schedule change they were actually able to get a much more desirable itinerary for their schedules without needing to pay change fees on their award!
Bottom line on schedule changes
They are definitely inconvenient. But, with the right maneuvering a rescheduled flight can actually benefit you! Learn the tricks of the trade, be proactive, and see how much value you can get out of what started out as an inconvenience.
Questions? Feel free to contact us!