When should travel companies waive their change fees during bad weather? Survey says …

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Christopher Elliott

More often than they do.

A majority of travelers (69 percent) said change fees and penalties should be suspended when bad weather prevented “a significant number” of travelers from from reaching the airport, hotel or port. Slightly fewer (62 percent) also said they should put the rules on “hold” when bad weather prevents the travel company from operating safely.

More than one-third (35 percent) said the rules should be waived when bad weather prevents an individual traveler from reaching the airport, hotel or port. And only 3 percent said a weather-related exception should never be made.

Your comments reflected the responses on the survey. Reader Jim Johansen said rules should be bent on a case-by-case basis.

Common sense should dictate the travel industries’ decisions. If a traveler can’t get to the airport or depot there should be the flexibility to accommodate him or her.

Also, if a traveler can leave before a weather event they should be allowed to. I recall there was a snow storm predicted so I called to leave a day earlier. Continental charged me to make the changes. My original flight was canceled the next day. Common sense!

Francisco Andrada added,

For any major or serious weather event that was not foreseable at the date the passenger reserved, [he or she] should be entitled to a waiver of the change fees.

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Kathleen Eaton added an industry perspective:

There may be as assumption on the part of most travelers that change fees are just excuses to increase profits. Given the state of technology today, the cost of changing a reservation is likely to be less than in the previous times when no change fees were charged.

If that is the prevailing assumption of most travelers then there isn’t any excuse for an airline to charge the change fee when weather conditions force a change in reservation for the traveler. It isn’t within the traveler’s ability to prevent the weather condition.

In addition, once one pays for something and a contract is created, the entity receiving payment needs to deliver …. if delivery isn’t possible then the money needs to be refunded.

Another reader was less sympathetic:

An individual with weather problems? What does that mean?

The electrical storm knocked out my power and I couldn’t get my garage door open and I missed my flight? Is that a weather problem? It was raining so hard, the roads in my neighborhood were flooded and no cabs would pick me up? Is that a weather problem? How would a travel company know?

That’s why (carefully chosen) trip insurance exists. Or pay the fee and figure it’s your bad luck. It is not always someone else’s responsibility to make your life better!

What do you think? Should travel companies make exceptions for the weather?

Where should they draw the line?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Tokyo.

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