Airfare is pretty much my least favorite part of traveling. First there is figuring out the best flights to book which can take forever if you are like me always comparing and wondering if prices will go down. Then once you finally find your perfect flights and find the perfect seats you book it and you feel relieved until you get that dreaded email that says flight change.
Flight changes have always happened but it seems like they are happening a lot more these days. Changes can happen for a variety of reasons but in general the further out you have booked your flights the more likely you will have changes. Flight changes can be a small amount of time or a large amount of time difference. Your plane could change, the route could change, or any other variables that might mess with your previously perfect flights. You might get notified really far ahead of time of changes or you might have last minute changes either way you need to be sure to look very closely at the changes and make sure you are OK with them and know what your options are. In most cases you don't just have to suck it up and keep what they give you.
There are 3 categories of flight change - Minor, Significant, or Cancellation. Your rights will depend on the type of change and of course the definition of the change can vary based on airline. You can check the terms and conditions on your airline's site for the details.
These are generally just a slight change in flight time or might be a different type of aircraft but for the most part these changes really shouldn't affect your overall plans. The airlines will notify you and show you the new flights and should also show you the old so you can see what the difference is. Be sure to look at these notifications carefully. Even with just a minor change in flight time your seat choice could have changed so be sure to look at everything. Generally in the case of minor changes you do not have options. If you really have an issue with a change you can talk to the airline and they might be able to offer you another option.
These are going to be a larger amount of time difference between what you had booked and what they are showing you now. It could also mean your non-stop flight now has a stop or maybe your connecting flight has a different stop. As long as your flight numbers are still the same this is considered a Significant Change and will come with more options than the minor change.
Most likely the airline will email you and say flight change and they will list the new and old version of your flights. If you are OK with it all you do not have to do anything, but if you do not like what they have given you and it is considered a significant change you can ask for other flights or a refund. The definition of Significant Change varies by airline but could be as little as 30 minutes different than your original.
Again be sure to look over all the details of the new flights the airline is giving you to be sure you want to accept or not. I once got a flight schedule change email and I thought the time only changed by a little but then I looked closer and I realized the flight had moved to a whole day later! I got another that went from non-stop to a connecting and there was no way I was accepting that either. The airlines will usually give a short amount of time to change after they notify you so be sure to stay on top of those emails and make your request to change quickly.
Flight cancellation isn't just when your flight is completely canceled but anytime the flight number you booked changes. If the airline moves you to another flight number most likely they will just email you a flight change notification and hope that you are OK with the new flights and you might not notice that totally new flight number. If you got new flight numbers you can ask for a refund or to be able to choose other flights. If the flight cancellation notice comes inside 14 days of your flight you might also be entitled to other compensation.
I just recently got an email of a flight change and at first I thought it was just a significant change but then I noticed that my flight number was different. I went to the airline's site and I could see they had definitely trimmed down the number of flights out that day compared to the many options that were showing when I booked. So I took a look at which flights were still being offered since I wasn't that crazy about the one they had automatically given me (which was more than 2 hours earlier and would have meant an earlier wake up than I prefer). I saw a later flight that didn't look too bad and I checked on seats to make sure I would be happy with the options. I then logged into my reservation and made the change quickly and at no cost. That was so much easier than having to call in and wait on hold so always check to see if you can make changes online before calling. If I had tried to make the change online and it said I needed to pay more I definitely would have been calling in since I knew this situation was a flight cancellation and gives me the most rights. Either way knowing your rights based on the flight change helps.
If you booked your flight further in advance then I also recommend popping onto the airline's site and checking on your booking periodically as the airlines won't always notify you as soon as they have made a change. The sooner you know about any changes the more options you will have to fix it.
Don't forget to look for 3 main things - flight times/dates, seats, and connections. Hopefully we can all get back to flying what used to be called the friendly skies without any issues!
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