The airline changed my flight time — is that even legal?

By | November 11th, 2015

Dana Dee booked a roundtrip flight from New Zealand to Orlando, to visit her family for Christmas. Getting there won’t be a problem, but getting back again could be a trick.

Her original return flight, for which she paid and was ticketed, was scheduled to depart from Orlando at 5:11 p.m. on Jan. 13.

But a few days ago, she received an email from BudgetAir, the online travel agent (OTA) through which she booked the flight, saying that her return flight had changed and would now depart at 7 a.m. on Jan. 13. The email asked her to confirm the change.

As Dee explained to us, she was not amenable the new schedule, since it would mean missing the last day of her trip and a planned dinner with family. She responded to BudgetAir, explaining why she would not confirm, but never heard back. She also claims she was unable to reach the company via phone.

Dee started a dispute with her credit card company, but in the meantime she is concerned about her trip. In her own words:

I’ve now started a dispute with my credit card company, but as we’re nearing Christmas, flights are becoming more expensive and I’m panicking.

I’m OK if the dispute takes its time to return my money, but is what they did even legal?

I don’t want to book another flight if I won’t be able to get my money back from this one, but if I don’t book soon I won’t be able to book at all because of how expensive the flights are becoming.

I feel for Dee, but to answer her question, yes, schedule changes are very legal. In fact, something similar happened to me recently.

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My fiance and I booked a trip to the U.K. for February, from Washington to London, with a connection through JFK. A few weeks ago, we received an email saying the departure time for our flight from JFK to Heathrow was changed to leave several hours earlier. Unfortunately, our flight from IAD to JFK would arrive too late for us to make that connection.

We called the airline directly and they rebooked us free of charge.

That’s where Dee is running into trouble. BudgetAir is an OTA. They are not responsible for schedule changes made by the airline.

Dee did not provide us with the airline she’s flying, nor the specific route, but a quick search leads me to believe she’s most likely flying from Orlando to Los Angeles before catching a connecting flight to New Zealand, and that the carrier for the domestic portion of her trip (the one with the schedule change) is either American or Delta.

If you ever run into a situation like this, you should contact the outbound lift carrier (the actual airline operating the flight in question) to address any issues. Some airlines will help, but as Dee can attest, your OTA usually won’t.

We recommend that Dee contact her outbound lift carrier to see whether they can help her get on a later flight that day. Chances are, her flight from LAX to New Zealand never changed — rather, the domestic connecting flight from Orlando to Los Angeles changed and she would be facing a longer layover at LAX with the new itinerary.

She should also check her domestic contract of carriage. When there’s a significant schedule change, she may be entitled to a no-questions-asked refund. That’s a lot less painful than a credit card dispute.

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We’d love to hear from Dee to find out if our itinerary sleuthing is correct. We’d also love to hear from you about whether we should take this case.

If Dee has trouble when she contacts the outbound lift carrier, should we advocate for her?

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  • Joe_D_Messina

    It stinks and I’m sorry for the OP. But I’m always blown away when people somehow manage to find this consumer site online but can’t be bothered to determine basic things like if it’s actually legal for the airline to change the flight time.

  • Alan Gore

    Her big mistake was booking through an OTA. Booking directly would probably cost more, but the peace of mind is worth it.
    The schedule change problem was discussed here just recently. By law BudgetAir has to refund her money, but (1) it can take its time doing so, and (2) she would now have to pay a walkup fare to rebook on another airline. Had she reserved directly with a name airline, they might have interlined for her, given such a large schedule change and needing to make an international connection. But coming as she does from a country with consumer protections, she was doubtless unaware of how things are done here.

  • JenniferFinger

    Well, Joe, people find this site after, not before, they have customer service problems, so why do you think they’re supposed to be so knowledgeable about what’s “basic” in advance?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Since I usually book our international trips months in advance, there have been several time changes for our flights (usually the domestic segments). Most of the time changes have been under 10 minutes; however, there was one time that we had to take a different flight. I have no troubles since I booked directly with the airline.

    As stated in the article, the problem is that the OP dealt with an online travel agent (OTA) or OBS (Online Booking Site) which I call these sites since they usually do not offer advice or services of a traditional travel agent. The OP was unable to contact the OTA by phone as well as not receiving a response to her e-mail.

    What is ‘missing’ from the article is educating the other readers of the ‘drawbacks’ of dealing with an OTA so that they don’t have to be stress out and etc. if they get into this situation. For example, buy your tickets directly from the airline. Buy your tickets from a brick & mortar travel agent that you can visit hisher office in case of a problem like this. As Alan Gore stated, it might cost more but the peace of mind is worth it.

  • tomg63

    She should contact the airline. They may be willing to change the flight for her.
    Also, I don’t think she is having dinner with her family if the flight leaves at 5pm.

  • RichardII

    Kind of an odd question. Sure, “if” after calling the airline Dee has problems, help her. But, she hasn’t called the airline yet. Shouldn’t that have happened first, before this article was posted?

    Also, I was put off that Dee filled a credit card dispute before even doing the basics of calling the airline.

  • Éamon deValera

    Yes, I think credit card disputes are the last thing to be done, not the first. Now she has thrown a spanner into the works if she calls the airline to change the flight and the charge has been reversed.

  • judyserienagy

    Funny you should bring up the educational opportunity, Arizona. Check out the new ELLIOTT TRAVEL TIPS section of the forum … that’s the subject of our first post.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Because logically it makes sense to have some idea what kind of help you actually need prior to looking for help. Does it appear like you’re clearly in the right or are you just going to have to hope the company is feeling charitable? That’s a very basic question that I think most people would try to answer on their own because the answer would directly impact who you’d contact and what sort of resolution you’d be happy with.

  • JenniferFinger

    I think it depends. There are people out there who are not that knowledgeable about travel and what’s legal and would have no way of knowing how to check it out. Most people aren’t going to be well-versed in the finer points of the law and contracts, especially as regards travel.
    But this site isn’t all that hard to find. Chris’s columns appear not just here but in other publications as well, not to mention that it’s not at all hard to Google “consumer problems” or “customer service problems” or something similar and this site will most likely show up.

  • Maxwell Smart

    no her big mistake was not going to a real travel agent. More than often they can often much better deals anyway. This believe that the internet is cheapest is a con. Used to sell a lot of fares to LAX from OZ. Almost always the cheapest by far, in busy peak period was Qantas one direction nonstop & Air Pacific(now called Fiji Airways in the other direction) Fiji Air is roughly 1/2 owned by Qantas (Fiji govt owns roughly 50.1%, as it has to for traffic right reasons). This type of fare can’t be found online anywhere, still, to my knowledge & you can’t buy it from either airline direct either.
    It’s virtually a travel agent exclusive combination fares & don’t mean OTA.

  • bayareascott

    She was missing a family dinner that was early enough to allow her to get the entire traveling party to the airport in time to make a 5:11 departure? That would bring new ideas to the term “early bird dinner”…

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