If an airline cancels your flight

What to do if an airline changes your flight

You’ve booked your flight, hotel, and other travel plans are set, then out of the blue, the airline sends you an email to inform you that your flight has been changed. It could be a slight change in your flight time (just a few minutes difference), or a big change meaning, you arrive at your destination much later than expected (some days maybe). Other times your direct flight becomes two flights. Worse off is getting your flight completely canceled or your itinerary altered.

True, when an airline changes your flight like this, it can ruin your trip, but it might not be a bad thing. Passengers can occasionally claim a flight schedule change compensation. But that doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes, you may have to accept the change of flight time. You can also ask for a full refund or be rerouted via a different flight without a change in fee. Yes, you won’t pay a cent more even if the new flight is more expensive, score!  For example, say you grabbed a one-stop cheap flight now you can request to switch to the nonstop.

Best read: How to Use Google Flights to Find Cheap Flights

What can you do if an airline cancels your flight?

In this article, we break down the possibilities depending on the circumstance.

When an airline cancels your flight and, you don’t want to rebook. 

The truth is, you can get a refund if an airline cancels your flight. It is backed by the law: A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline cancels a flight and regardless of the reason, the passenger chooses not to make a new booking with that airline.

Please note that the airline may offer you a coupon or a rerouting instead of a refund.  As mentioned above, you are entitled to a refund if the alternative flight doesn’t suit you. Non-refundable economy tickets are eligible for a refund if the airline cancels your flight.

If the airline continues to stonewall on giving you a refund and try to push you to get a coupon instead, here is what you can do; 

  • You can hang up and call again. Some agents have discretion as to who receives a refund. And your luck with a particular agent may differ. Remain calm and remember the agent is not to blame,
  • You can also file a complaint to DOT,
  • Or challenge the charge with your credit card since you didn’t get what you pay for. If an airline refuses to provide a refund, there is a chargeback option. 

If the airline changes your flight itinerary significantly:

If an airline changes your flight itinerary

Some airlines have policies that if they alter your itinerary in a significant way after booking, they’ll work with you to get you on the best flight for your schedule. What constitutes a significant change varies by the airline? We’ve discussed your options for some of these changes below. However, to know what your airline defines as a minor or significant change, we advise you to refer to their Terms and Conditions. 

Minor change

If you are a victim of a minor schedule change, you generally have no choice but to accept it. If this happens to you, politely request a refund or an alternative flight. Also, keep in mind that you are not covered by any law, and the airline has no obligation to reimburse you or change your flight to a different flight.

Significant change

When there is a significant change to your schedule, you have more options.  Most of the time, the airline will offer you the opportunity to receive a refund or reroute on a similar flight.

Keep in mind that if your airline offers a change of route as an alternative to a change of schedule, you do not have to accept it if the flight is not for your convenience.  In this case, contact the airline to request a different flight or refund (especially when there is no flight matching your schedule).

When requesting a different flight, don’t worry if the fare is higher than what you paid for. If there’s an open seat, the airline will probably move you to the flight for free, regardless of what it says it sells for. Once you find a new flight, call the airline to change your itinerary. 

If the airline cancels your flight and moves you to another flight:

Okay, let’s say your flight is scheduled for Thursday, but the airline canceled your flight and put in another scheduled for Friday. Or another scenario, you were going to Portland from Philadelphia, but the airline stopped operating that route. So, instead, they fly from Philadelphia to Seattle to Portland. In either case, you can accept the new flight or evaluate other available options. Then ask the airline to move you to a flight that works better with your schedule. 

But just like before, unless the change is deemed significant, getting a refund is slim. If you do get a refund, that may mean you won’t be able to take your trip at all.  

Can you get compensation if the airline changes the flight schedule?

Yes. But hold on. To be entitled to compensation for a change in flight schedule, the airline must have notified you in less than a fourth night before the flight. And the modification must consist of a flight cancellation or a flight change. 

If the airline cancels your flight because they are no longer operating that route:

If an airline changes your flight

Most major airlines operate a hub-and-spoke model or have several partners. In that case, the airline can simply reroute you. Say you’re scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Madrid, and the airline cancels their SFO-MAD route. They might decide to put you on a flight to their New York hub, where you can easily catch a flight going to Madrid. There is also the option of flying you to say Paris and then to Madrid. With the final leg connecting with a European partner.

It gets a bit messy if the airline is operating on a budget and has neither an extensive partner network nor utilizes a hub-and-spoke model. Since they employ a point-to-point model, it may not be possible to reroute you if they cancel a specific route. So the most likely outcome here is a refund unless you are willing to join another point-to-point route. If you decide to take on this option, be aware that any extra cost incurred will be borne by you. For example, if the airline canceled their New York- Paris route, they may give you an option to rebook into their New York- Madrid flight or Boston to Paris route. In either case, you would be responsible for getting yourself from Madrid to Paris or from  New York to Boston 

If the airline cancels your flight because they have gone out of business:

If an airline cancels your flight

Although this rarely ever happens, it does. And when it happens, chances are you’re not getting your money back from a non-existent airline. Okay, that scared you a bit. Nevertheless, you may have other ways to recoup that may be part of your expenses if not all. 

Search for “rescue fares” offered by other airlines. For example, when WOW Air went bust, other airlines like the Norwegian Air, Icelandair, and Virgin Atlantic moved in to offer discounted dares to affect passengers. Norwegian Air gave 25% off, Icelandair on their part set fare for $60-$160 depending on the route. These fares were significantly lower than the price of a new ticket. 

You can get a refund through your credit card or bank. We’ve mentioned this before. You can dispute the charge or initiate a chargeback from your credit card issuer whenever you make a purchase using your credit card and you don’t receive the item or service. Many banks oblige and give you a refund.

Best read; 11 Best flight sites for booking cheap flights

How to get compensation or recoup other expenses

Okay, let’s say the airline is not going out of business but, they canceled your flight and can’t reroute you. In that case, you’re entitled to a refund. But what about other travel expenses like connecting flights or non-refundable hotel bills? You have a chance at recouping the money spent on those expenses too. For example, you booked the flight using your credit card that offers travel protection. Those expenses are most likely covered too. All you have to do is call your card services, find out what’s covered and whatnot, and file a claim. 

According to the European Union Flight Compensation Regulation 261/2004 (also known as EU 261), passengers traveling to, from, or within the EU are entitled to up to € 600, depending on the flight distance for cancellation.  But this only applies if you were informed less than 14 days before the scheduled departure date of this flight. 

Additionally, you can get a refund for the unused part, reroute as well as compensation if an airline cancels your flight during a trip.

Frequently asked questions about flight cancellation.

Can I cancel my flight and get a refund?

Hate to break it to you. Unless the airline made significant changes to your flight or canceled it, you are not entitled to a refund unless you have a refundable ticket.

What are my rights if an airline changes my time?

The law allows an airline to make changes to your flight time or flight schedules, no less than two weeks before your departure. Unless the airline notifies you within this time frame, you are entitled to compensation for loss of time and extra cost.  

Can I get a refund if an airline changes my airport?

If your flight is moving from a European airport and, you are notified less than 7 days before departure. According to the European consumer protection law (EU 261), you are entitled to a refund, compensation including transportation cost to the rerouting airport from the one you originally booked. 

Can airlines change your flight without notice?

No. The airline is obligated to notify you no sooner than 14 days before the scheduled departure. Also, if a flight number is changed, it might mean the flight has been canceled. Therefore, you are entitled to compensation or a refund. 

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