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Why Do Airlines Change Flight Times or Cancel your Flight? What to Do?

If an airline carrier change or cancel your flight one or more time schedule, this can often, cause problems for many passengers. Thus, whether the weather is unfavorable or there is an outbreak of a severe pandemic, etc., this happens.

In this travel guide, we will take a detailed look at what to do if an airline carrier decides to change or even cancel flights.

Generally speaking, airline carriers are required to follow certain regulations and also, take necessary measures against unforeseen challenges, and sometimes, do things at their sole discretion. In addition, there are, of course, other reasons as well, which have a significant impact on the delays or cancellations of, or changes in the schedule of flights.

Thus, a few common reasons that determine these decisions by airline carriers may include the following:

  • An airline carrier may reduce the frequency of service to a given destination, or they could adjust flight departure times just to optimize aircraft utilization. Also, in some cases, a flight that is booked several months in advance may undergo changes, either once or multiple times.
  • Sometimes, airlines may wait until a couple of weeks or even months before deciding whether to operate a particular flight. This decision can be due to demand, equipment changes, maintenance, or perhaps, some other reasons.
  • Passengers are often troubled with flight delays, changes, or cancellations that may be due to bad weather, strike, or orders from the government. These are usually beyond the control of an airline carrier and thus, by customers as well.
  • An airline carrier no longer operates flights on a particular route.
  • An airline company is going out of business for a couple of reasons, which is rare but can happen though.

These are just a few of the common ones that may cause your scheduled flight to be canceled or changed to another flight or carrier.

Why Airline Cancels or Changes Your Flight?

While some passengers may be able to adjust to the changes or cancellations that are made to their flights’ schedule by the carrier(s), others will certainly not be happy about it.

Let’s understand this from the following scenarios.

Flight’s Itinerary is Changed

Airline companies usually have policies, in which they state that if the carrier changes your flight itinerary after booking, they will also, do their best to get you on the next available flight scheduled for your destination.

Now, what constitutes a significant change in a flight’s itinerary may vary from one airliner to another. For example, for United Airlines it’s 30 minutes, whereas it’s 60 minutes in the case of American and Delta airline carriers. Or, your connection time needs to shrink to below the airport or airline’s stated minimum connection time.

Thus, in these situations, the first thing you can do is to search online (preferably on OTA websites) and see what other flights are available from that airline, and choose the schedule option that best fits your needs. When searching for alternate flights through online travel agencies, chances are, you may stumble upon increased or discounted fares. You don’t have to worry if the fare for the new flight is higher than what you paid for your actual flight. However, if there is an open seat, the airline will likely shift you to the flight that you requested (for free), regardless of there being any cost. And, if you feel alright being moved to a new flight, you may call the airline to get your itinerary updated as well.

However, after the change, if there are no other flights that work with your schedule, you also have the option to request a cash refund. You can ask for a refund even if you purchased non-refundable basic economy fare. Most airlines allow customers to request refunds on non-refundable basic economy tickets. For instance, refunds are allowed by United if it’s two hours, for Delta it’s 90 minutes, and for American, it’s 4 hours. However,  depending on what you actually paid and how soon you’re traveling, you may have difficulties finding an alternate flight and at the best price. Often, last-minute flights are quite expensive.

Flight Schedule is Changed and You Refuse being Rebooked

By law, if your airline carrier is responsible for the cancellation of your flight, then you are eligible for a cash refund.

“A passenger is entitled to a refund if the airline canceled a flight, regardless of the reason, and the passenger chooses not to be rebooked on a new flight on that airline.”

But, airline companies will try to keep you in the dark about this law. They may hide the refund option and try to persuade you to accept a voucher instead. It is, therefore, important that you read the carrier’s travel policies, know your rights and be careful with the decisions that you make. The same also goes for basic economy tickets, which are generally non-refundable if you elect to cancel voluntarily. But, if the airline cancels your flight, you become eligible for a cash refund.

On the other hand, if your airline carrier is trying to stonewall on a refund and offers you a voucher instead, in such a case, you have three options, which are given below.

  1. If you’re on the phone with your carrier’s customer service representative, just hang up and call back again. Often, customer service representatives have discretion about which customers get refunds. Don’t just give up yet if it doesn’t work out a couple of times. You will have better luck with another representative.
  2. You can file a complaint to the authorities. For example, if you’re a citizen of the USA, you can file your complaints with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
  3. You may dispute the charge with your credit card. Most banks guarantee that if you paid for something and didn’t receive it, you can dispute the charge and be reimbursed by the credit card. So, if an airline refuses to offer you a refund, you can use the chargeback option.

Get Benefits from Airlines that Cancel or Change Your Scheduled Flight?

When your airline carrier suddenly decides to change your flight schedule, even by as little as 30 minutes, you do have certain rights over this. Therefore, in such a case, you have the right to either avail of a full refund, or simply request your carrier to put you on a different flight without being charged a change fee, and often without having to pay more, if the new flight happens to be a little more expensive.

So, if you don’t want to accept the changed trip, you can just ask for compensation. You are qualified for a cash refund if an uncertainty like this occurs. However, if you did want to take the trip but don’t like your flight for some reason, you also have the right to change to a better one, and free of charge. For example, let’s say you scored a cheap flight that has one stop, but you can request your carrier to switch you to a non-stop flight.


As seen above, there are plenty of reasons for airline carriers to change or cancel flights. But, as customers, it is also your responsibility how you act upon their policies and exercise your rights to make better decisions. This, in turn, will also affect your overall experience with the airline carrier and, of course, your holiday journey.

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