No one else on my flight was charged a change fee! Why me?

Koren Perry wants to know why Southwest Airlines is charging her a fee to change her flight from Las Vegas to San Diego when it’s not charging anyone else on her flight to do so. Can our advocates unearth the answer — or fair treatment from Southwest — for Perry?

Question: I recently traveled from San Diego to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines with my two-year-old child. But there was inclement weather in Southern California on the day I was supposed to fly home, a Saturday, and other airlines were canceling flights to San Diego.

Since I needed to return to work the following Monday and did not want to be stuck at the airport with my toddler, I changed my flight to leave Las Vegas that Sunday. Weather reports indicated that the storms in San Diego would have passed by then. It cost me $294 to change my flight.

A few hours later, Southwest posted a notice indicating that customers flying that Friday and Saturday to and from San Diego could change their flights at no cost. I contacted Southwest to ask for a refund for the flight change fee I paid. Southwest refused to refund the fee because I changed my reservation before it posted the notice.

I don’t think this is fair. Can you help me get a refund of the fee from Southwest? — Koren Perry, San Diego

Answer: I agree with you – it isn’t fair that the difference of a few hours in changing your flight means that you have to pay while anyone else who waited didn’t. The danger to all of you of flying in inclement weather and the potential for delays was the same, regardless of when you changed your reservation.

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You sent us a copy of the travel advisory Southwest Airlines issued, which clearly allowed for free changes of flights to San Diego based on the weather forecast. Yet Southwest’s agent treated the timing of your change as a technicality that allowed the airline to deny you a refund of the change fee.

Southwest’s contract of carriage provides that for canceled flights,

In the event Carrier cancels or fails to operate any flight according to Carrier’s published schedule, or changes the schedule of any flight, Carrier will, at the request of a Passenger with a confirmed Ticket on such flight, take one of the following actions:
(i) Transport the Passenger at no additional charge on Carrier’s next flight(s) on which
space is available to the Passenger’s intended destination, in accordance with
Carrier’s established reaccommodation practices; or
(ii) Refund the unused portion of the Passenger’s fare

Since Southwest ultimately decided to cancel your original flight because of force majeure events, had you waited and not changed your flight until after it issued the advisory, Southwest would have owed you a free change of flight.

Although you might have used our executive contacts for Southwest to escalate your complaint, you turned to our advocacy team for help in getting that change fee refunded.

We reached out to Southwest Airlines on your behalf, and it has issued you vouchers for the entire $294 you were charged to change your ticket. You are happy with this resolution, and so are we.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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