MIAMI (CBSMiami) — When you buy an airline ticket and want to change your itinerary, you’ll probably pay a fee. In fact, airlines collected $2.7 billion in “reservation change” and “cancellation fees” last year alone.
But what if an airline changes your flight in advance? You may be stuck paying more because of a change in plans you didn’t want to make.
When Nicole Tarczanin took a Caribbean cruise with her family, they all had a great time. But getting to the port was not exactly smooth sailing.
“Our mother immediately called us, my sister and I, in a panic, saying ‘what are we going to do?'” Tarczanin said.
Months after they booked flights, the airline changed the schedule. Their plane would land 10 hours later than initially planned. But that meant they’d miss the boat.
“We called the airline and they basically just told us there wasn’t anything else that they could do, that all flights were booked,” Tarczanin said.
The airline refunded the frequent flyer miles Tarczanin and her family used for the tickets, but now they had to pay more than $700 for seats on a different carrier.
So, what are your rights if you’re like Tarczanin and a schedule change doesn’t work with your schedule?
We’re not talking about delays due to weather or mechanical problems, but changes made in advance that might mean your plane will leave hours earlier, or hours later, even the next day.
“If the airline has changed your flight and that flight is not convenient for you, you can absolutely get a refund,” said Jean Medina with Airlines for America.
But travel experts say a refund might not get you to your destination on time or cover possible additional expenses like an extra night in a hotel or a potentially more expensive ticket on another airline.
One couple wrote in an email that they had to cut their wedding reception an hour short because of a schedule change.
“Airlines can change their schedules without any repercussions whatsoever. There’s no federal law that prevents them from doing so,” explained Air Travel Expert George Hobica.
If you check the fine print on the websites of many airlines, they have warnings like “Flight schedules are not guaranteed.”
The Airline Industry Association says schedule changes happen rarely but could be on the rise because airlines are eliminating more flights and not flying where they used to fly.
Major carriers say “schedule changes are an inherent part of the airline industry” and “we make adjustments as necessary based on crew and aircraft availability.”
The Airline Industry Association says two million people fly 25,000 flights each day and the vast majority go as scheduled.
But when changes do affect flyers, the advocacy group Flyers Rights is now calling on the feds to require airlines to pay for some of the extra costs passengers incur from schedule changes.
Tarczanin is on board.
“I don’t think schedule changes are a very fair thing for airlines to do,” she said.