If it’s for something that happens on a flight that was already flown, then the correct answer is to:
- Contact the airline and let them know how you expect them to make it right. If it involved a flight delay or cancellation from a region with consumer protection laws like Europe or Israel, be sure to know your rights when you ask for a specific compensation amount.
- I’ve gone down this road when an airline forgets our confirmed kosher meals or lost a bag and have always been happy with the outcome.
- If the airline won’t resolve it, file an informal complaint with the DOT.
- The DOT has helped me out in many cases where airlines refused to help such as when American cancelled our flight to London and wouldn’t refund us or when Iberia wouldn’t refund us for a cancelled American flight.
- Many DansDeals readers who weren’t able to fly somewhere due to travel bans at their destination have been able to get a cash refund by filing a DOT complaint. Airlines don’t have to refund in this situation, but they often will in order to stay on the DOT’s good side and avoid regulation that might require them to offer refunds to everyone.
- If an informal DOT complaint doesn’t produce results to solve the issue, file a formal complaint with the DOT.
- Many DansDeals readers have received cash refunds for cancelled flights when airlines were ignoring their requests by filing a formal complaint.
- Take an airline to small claims court. Many times an airline may even fail to show up, leading to a default judgment in your favor.
But what about when things happen before your flight?
DDF member Ysturmwind was booked to fly on United from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale this morning. He noticed last night that the seats he previously selected in the middle of the plane for his family of 5 were removed and they were now scattered among several rows in the back of the plane. With 3 kids under the age of 6, was there anything for him to do?
I noted that things like that can happen when there are plane swaps. Airlines have multiple configurations of the same plane variant and as you get closer to a flight, the airline may have to swap in another plane due to scheduling issues. When that happens, you may lose your seat assignment, and even if the airline goes back to your original plane configuration, you won’t get your old seats back.
Unfortunately his flight and other flights from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale were nearly completely booked up, so there wasn’t much United could offer.
Seat assignments are also not guaranteed, but in a situation like this you can usually push for a refund.
But I asked Ysturmwind if a flight from Chicago to Miami or West Palm Beach might work. He had a prepaid rental with Chase at Fort Lauderdale, but upon looking closer he was able to get a full refund for it up to 6 hours before pickup time. Plus the rental from Miami turned out to be $100 cheaper!
While the Miami flight didn’t have empty sears in Economy Minus, it had plenty of space in Economy Plus. I suggested that he call United and say that due to having young children and United losing their seats that were reserved together, would the agent be able to switch them to the Miami flight and book them into Economy Plus seats without any additional cost.
And sure enough, United did just that! The family got upgraded seats at no charge and saved money on the car rental. That’s some decent lemonade indeed!
The trick is always having other options in your back pocket. Airlines aren’t going to proactively solve your problems, but if you offer a reasonable solution, most agents (though you may need to ask for manager) will be willing to make things right.
Another common problem is when an airline cancels or changes the schedule on your upcoming flight. Airlines sometimes rebook you on another flight or just leave your ticket as cancelled with you needing to call in. People often get nervous and call the airline to make a rash rebooking decision and then ask for advice. By then it’s too late!
In fact, a schedule change or cancellation is like winning the airline ticket lottery! Often times an airline won’t even let you know about a change, you just have to notice it on their site and compare it to your original email confirmation.
When an airline changes your flight schedule by roughly 2+ hours or cancels your flight, you are entitled to make free changes to flights on nearby dates without paying the difference in fare or you can get a cash refund. It’s even better than purchasing a refundable ticket as you won’t pay the difference in fare for a more expensive flight. You can also change your routing, change to nearby airports, and suggest other creative solutions that will work for you.
However once you make a change, you are locked into the new flight. Therefore, the best practice is to just let it sit until you are closer in to the time of your flight. In the meantime, you may decide not to travel or that you want to travel on another date or flight. Just make sure to watch the flight you want to switch to in order to ensure that it doesn’t sell out in the meantime.
Have airlines handed you lemons? Share your stories about you you made lemonade in the comments!