Oh the joys of showing up to the airport, only to find that your flight had a schedule change, and left hours ago. Delays and cancellations are annoying and unpredictable- but schedule changes are common, and can actually result in much better outcomes. The earlier you book- the more chance that an airline will change the type of plane, the time of departure, sometimes even the day of departure! Since all those things can be HUGE inconveniences, there are a few things passengers can (and should )do to make things right, and maybe even wonderful.

Airlines Are Supposed To Notify You If Your Booking Changes…

If your booking changes even slightly- like a slightly earlier or later departure or arrival time, the airline is supposed to notify you. Often, things get stuck in your junk mail, or they notify you far later than they should. To avoid that – we recommend using CheckMyTrip or MyFlights, which looks out for both aircraft and schedule changes. ExpertFlyer can also be fantastic for seeing if your seating assignment is changed, which can be a signal that the plane or specific seat you booked is changing.

But You Don’t Always Have To Accept Their Changes…

When an airline makes a significant change- which is generally defined as any departure or arrival change over an hour, a date change, a routing change or an aircraft change, you don’t have to accept what they give you. Even a 5 minute change can be argued, though that will require some negotiating skills and perhaps some Hollywood script writing. Any change which you can argue to be impactful can unlock endless opportunities, from refund to re route, to mini “upgrade”. Missing that 5 minute window to line up for the best taco truck in town, before it opens, could be enough- if you can sell it!

Know That Date Or Time Changes Should Be Easy…

They changed the schedule, not you! If all you’d like out of the airlines’ proposed changes; is an earlier or later flight than the one they’ve moved you to- as a result of their schedule change- that should be no problem. The airline is always happier to move you onto an earlier or later flight than give you a refund, so be sure to push for any reasonable change to the “earlier flight” or to the “next morning”, even if politely asking for a supervisor is necessary. But there’s so much more you can do…

Know The 500 Mile Rule…

Many airlines use the 500 mile rule as official policy when dealing with passengers involved in schedule changes or aircraft changes. That means: when airlines make a significant change (generally over two hours in this case), or an aircraft change, you can ask to change the departure or arrival of the affected flight to a nearby location within 500 miles. In instances where people booked from a nearby city to save money, this can be wonderful, since you stand a chance to depart or arrive from your home city.

Know That Airline Partners May Be In Play As Well…

Most airlines have strong partnerships with other airlines, designed to create a seamless travel experience throughout the alliance’s global network. If an airline changes the schedule, date or aircraft of your flight, it’s not unreasonable to suggest a flight on one of the original airline’s partners, that will suit your needs. This is far easier with schedule or date changes than with aircraft changes, but if the change is enough to “impact” onward travel, meetings, or anything you can think of, be sure to research partner options before calling.

Know That A Full Refund Is Possible For Changes Over An Hour…

Life is a game of inches and seconds, so an hour is quite a long time. Though many airlines officially state that arrival or departure changes must be 90-120 minutes to warrant a refund, many will gladly give you your money back for schedule changes over an hour, if you no longer want to travel. For some, this could be a fantastic opportunity to rebook at a now lower price, or with a preferred airline.

Examples Of Winning…

You Were Booked From Paris But London Was Easier- Because they changed your flight in some way, you could argue that due to some impactful reason it no longer suits to leave from Paris, London is better. You end up on more convenient flights.

You Were Booked On An Old Angle Flat Business class Seat- Because of the change which you’re not happy with, you can argue your way onto a flight which features the airline (or one of their partners) new and improved business class seats. Mini upgrade = complete.

You Had A Terrible, Long Layover- Yep, you booked the cheaper ticket, which included a nightmare 9 hour layover from 3AM to to noon. Because they changed the flight, you can “win” by asking to move to the later departure time, with just a nice 3 hour layover. Stay cheap.

Your Booking Had Lots Of Connections-  Sure, there could be some fun in going from Atlanta, to Dallas, to Tokyo to Shanghai, just to get to Shanghai- but if a direct flight is preferable, a schedule change is just the “ticket” to argue that your connections will no longer work, the direct is perfect!

How To Secure The Win…

You know the options, you know the potentially exciting results- now you just need to execute. Come on! The key to executing these potentially beneficial changes, the results of schedule changes, is to do top notch research. The more info, flight numbers, other potential routings on partners you have available, the easier you make the agents job. Google Flights is great, since you can look up flights by alliance. FINALLY, be polite. It’s a virtue. A friendly agent will always be more likely to “bend” the official rules for a nice person with a solid story, and actionable counter offers to the airlines changes. Best of luck.