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‘Schedule changes are miserable.’ Here’s how to deal with one like a pro.

When it comes to air travel, plans can change at any time.

And they’ve changed a lot recently. Flight schedules have become even more unpredictable as a result of labour shortages, economic uncertainty, and a lingering pandemic.

According to the real-time flight-tracking website FlightAware, US airlines cancelled 3% of their flights and delayed 21% by an average of 48 minutes in the first six months of 2022. In comparison, in the same time frame last year, airlines cancelled only 1.5% of flights and delayed 14%.

“At this point in aviation history, schedule changes are miserable,” said Geoffrey Millstone, a travel adviser with Clarksburg Travel. He advises his clients to expect at least two flight changes per month, with more during peak travel seasons such as spring break.

Flight schedule changes can be difficult.

Consider Kate Canady, who purchased two tickets to fly from Seattle to Dubuque, Iowa, in 2020. Because of the pandemic, American Airlines offered her a flight credit, and she attempted to rebook her tickets twice but had to cancel due to travel restrictions.

When she tried to rebook for the third time, American rescheduled her flight by more than four hours. That meant she could get a refund of “the remaining ticket value” under the terms of the carriage contract. Canady decided it wasn’t meant to be and requested a refund from her online travel agency, Expedia. A representative initially told her she could get a refund, but later changed her mind and said she could only get a nonrefundable ticket credit.

Have you experienced whiplash yet? Expedia reviewed her complicated refund case after I inquired about it. “Since Canady recalls being offered a refund, we will honour that and process it as soon as possible,” Expedia spokesperson Christie Hudson told me.

Methods for dealing with a flight schedule change

A travel professional is indispensable. Here are some strategies used by travel professionals to deal with flight schedule changes.

Allow yourself enough time.

“The best defence against a cancelled flight is time,” said Sofia Calvin, Storied Travel’s lead adviser. “Try to arrive early, not the day before a family holiday dinner, wedding, or other special event. Knowing you have a few days will help you relax.”

Gather all of your options.

“Know your rights,” said Justin Hill, founder of the new travel site Faretrotter. There are two things you should be aware of: First, locate your airline’s contract of carriage or conditions of carriage, which outline the airline’s obligations in the event of a delay or cancellation. (You can easily find them online.) Second, go to the Department of Transportation’s website by clicking here to see if you’re owed anything. On my advocacy website, I also offer a free guide to resolving airline ticket issues.

Do not put off rescheduling.

Passengers frequently leave the airport in the hope that their flight problems will be resolved later. “However, in most cases, you’re in the best position to make a change at the airport,” said Bob Bacheler, managing director of Flying Angels, a medical transportation service. Don’t leave the terminal without a plan for how to salvage your itinerary.

Request a better route.

If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you will most likely have to wait a long time or be rescheduled on an inconvenient flight. You are not required to accept your new flight. Negotiating with the airline to secure the desired flight, according to Frank Harrison, regional security director at World Travel Protection. Airlines can be surprisingly accommodating: “Airlines will prioritise this over a refund,” he said.

Make use of the app.

Refrain from standing in a long line at the airport. “While others rush to customer service, rely on technology,” said E.J. Kritz, a frequent traveller and keynote speaker from Charleston, South Carolina. He recently became stranded in Charlotte after one of his flights was cancelled.

“I remained calmly at the bar where I was eating dinner, opened my airline’s app, and rebooked myself to LaGuardia,” he explained. Your airline app isn’t just for frequent flyers. It is available for free download to anyone. In many cases, it outperforms humans.

How do the professionals do it?

Professionals such as travel agents and (ahem) travel journalists are occasionally stranded at the airport due to a delayed or cancelled flight. And, without a doubt, cancellations are complicated. However, the professionals I know always approach a flight cancellation or delay calmly and reschedule according to the book. They know their rights, find the quickest route to their destination, and never waste time yelling at an airport ticket agent. Given the likelihood of another challenging holiday travel season, everyone should think about these professional strategies for dealing with a flight schedule change.

To avoid rescheduling errors,

Don’t forget about travel insurance. According to Kylie Loyd, owner of Drift Destinations, it’s no longer an option in an era of frequent airline cancellations. “Always get travel insurance,” she recommended. “It makes no difference if your flight provides free cancellations or changes. If you have a problem with flight cancellations, delays, or missing luggage, travel insurance can help you at least add monetary value to your time and belongings.”
Maintain your cool. You’ve probably seen the online freakout videos. You know, flight cancelled, passenger has a nervous breakdown. That is one of the most serious mistakes a traveller can make. “Keep calm,” said Roger Broussard, creative director of a pilot website. But how exactly? He claims that a little forethought can help you relax. Check out the airport before your flight to see what you can do to pass the time if necessary. Bring a good book or a tablet computer loaded with movie downloads.
Don’t forget to bring your receipts. If you are delayed for six or more consecutive hours, travel insurance with trip delay coverage may reimburse you for unexpected expenses such as hotel rooms, meals, and taxi rides until your next available departure, up to the policy limit. However, Daniel Durazo, a spokesman for Allianz Partners USA, claims that air travellers frequently overlook the benefit. “One of the most common mistakes insured travellers make is failing to keep proper documentation of their delay or cancellation, which may be required for reimbursement,” he says. Just in case, keep all of your receipts, text messages, and emails.

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