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Caught between United, Expedia and a useless ticket to Fort Lauderdale

Karen DelSignore is flying from Newark to Fort Lauderdale in February. She’s just not sure when.

A few days ago, she received an email from United Airlines that her 6:20 a.m. flight had been changed. The airline assured her it was a minor adjustment. United promised she’d arrive in Florida within half an hour of her originally scheduled flight.

Then she looked at the new confirmation.

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“I noticed it said p.m. on my reservation for outgoing flight, instead of a.m.,” she says. “I know I triple-checked the times and dates when I booked.”

DelSignore wants me to fix the ticket. I’d like to help, and I may be able to. But should I? United has the right, under its contract of carriage, to change its schedule; she has the right to ask for a full refund. There’s still time to book a new ticket.

The bigger issue, of course, is the a.m./p.m. problem. As someone raised in Europe and who spent a lot of time around military types who used a 24-hour clock, I think the solution is obvious. More on that in a second.

Here’s how DelSignore tried to resolve the problem:

I called Expedia. A representative told me here was a flight leaving at 6:30 a.m.. They could change my flight, but it was going to cost me $200 per ticket.

I can’t afford to pay that. That was almost the amount of the flight itself.

I went ahead and called the airline, United Airlines. After about 40 minutes of waiting, they also stated the charge was $200 per ticket, plus another $56, that they said they would waive. Again, I can’t afford to pay that.

She wonders, “Is it fair that the airline can change my time and flight number, but I cannot? Am I stuck with having to pay this absurd amount to change the time? Is there anything I can do?”

United addresses schedule changes in United’s contract. Here’s the relevant language.

When a Passenger’s Ticketed flight is affected because of a Change in Schedule, UA will, at its election, arrange one of the following:

1) Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger;

2) At UA’s discretion, reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers in an equivalent class of service when a Change in Schedule results in the cancellation of all UA service between two cities;

3) Advise the Passenger that the value of his or her Ticket may be applied toward future travel on United within one year from the date of issue without a change or reissue fee; or

4) If the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request.

In other words, United can change your schedule any way it wants to. It owes you a full refund when it does so. It doesn’t owe you a flight of your choosing.

Is that fair? I don’t think so.

Fair would be if United refunded the amount of money it would cost to fly your desired route on a competitor.

That’s a little bit like paying $7 a share for Apple in 1998 and then having the company refund you in 2014, when it’s trading at over $500 a share. Something’s not quite right with that picture — unless you’re using airline logic.

She sent a brief, polite email to United, asking it to change “p.m.” to “a.m.”, but it sent a form reply noting that it needed to speak to her by phone.

“I was told if there was a mistake, Expedia should be able to change the flight time,” she says.

Expedia wouldn’t discuss the matter by email, either, instead sending her a message that “booking, changing, or canceling reservations” must be handled by phone. How convenient for them.

Expedia’s answer was also the same: Pay a change fee, accept the refund, or take the new flight. Those are your only choices.

It’s still unclear how this mistake was made. Was this just a routine rescheduling? Did DelSignore hit the wrong button and misread “a.m.” as “p.m.” three times when triple-checking? Is there a better outcome that I can advocate for?

Should I mediate Karen DelSignore's case?

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