To preface today's notes, think of a ticket as a contract. Passenger X agrees to pay for a ticket to travel from point A to point B on a certain date. Airline Z agrees to provide service on flt 123 from point A to point B on that date. Between the time the ticket is purchased until the flight leaves, a myriad of things may happen that may keep either party from keeping their end of the contract. Passenger X may have to work on the day he planned on travelling. Airline Z may have to cancel the flight. Both parties have obligations based on the terms set up when the ticket was purchased (remember, read everything before buying). Whether you read over the terms or not, once the ticket is purchased you and the airline agree to the airline's contract of carriage (most airlines provide this contract through their websites), as well as all rules for reaccomodation. As always, policies may be different between airlines.
If you make the change
* Confirm the change policy of the airline. Most tickets are non-refundable. A reissue fee on such tickets may carry a penalty of around $100 per passenger. You may also have to pay the difference between the value of your current ticket and the price of the new itinerary. The airline will price the new itinerary at today's price, not the price it may have been back when you originally purchased your ticket. If you know that you need to make a change, the sooner it can be made, the better it may be price wise. Keep in mind however, if you need to change the ticket a second time, you may be charged a second reissue fee. Check with your airline.
If the airline makes the change
* The airline wants your business. Flight changes are not personal and the airline does not take pleasure in making several thousands of passengers upset that their plans have been changed. Airlines adjust their flights several times througout the year, based on how full the flights may be. A flight which is full every day stands little chance of changing the time, in fact the airline may switch the aircraft for a larger sized plane to increase their revenue. However, a flight which goes out half full five days out of the week is not profitable, and in todays economy, airlines cannot afford to even fly the planes with so few passngers aboard.
* Airlines will look at all options - conditionally. Though your flight may be cancelled several weeks in advance, the airline can offer alternate itineraries. They may not (and probably will not) look at accomdations on other airlines for a schedule change made several weeks before the flight is scheduled to leave.
*Day of departure. Any number of things can affect a flight on the day of departure. There may be a mechanical problem requiring serious attention. Weather can stop all traffic into a city faster than you may realize. Air traffic control is God when it comes to any operation. Crews, which may have had a later flight, are required to wait for a specific amount of time before they can work again.
*If your flight is cancelled or a delay will affect another flight - speak with a gate agent. Unless the agents tell you to call the airline's reservation system, only airport agents are allowed to make changes to a passengers itinerary once the passenger is checked in. Lines will be long and tempers will be hot. Please keep in mind that the ultimate reason the flight has been cancelled is that it has been determined that it is unsafe for passengers to travel on that particular flight, and the airline or air traffic control is protecting every passenger on that flight.
*Reacommodation to another airline is not always an option. For example, if Airline Z cannot fly to Duluth because of a snowstorm, neither can Airline Y. Most reaccomdation policies are determined at the time the cancellation occurs.
*Have some way to contact someone outside the airport. Take a cell phone, use the pay phones, please have some way to contact a family member or friend.
Again, policies may be different betwen airlines. Always contact your carrier for any questions specific to your flight plans. These posts are developed after years of assisting passengers with questions and are not intended to supercede or affect any airlines policies, nor do they reflect any one airline's policies.
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