a passport and boarding pass

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.

a close up of a jet engineAirlines 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.

a shelf with bottles of alcoholBut 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!

a screenshot of a flight scheduleKnow 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…

a city skyline with many lightsKnow 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.

airplanes parked on a runwayKnow 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.

a passport and boarding passKnow 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.

a room with a vase of roses and people in the backgroundExamples 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!

a bed with pillows and a purse on itHow 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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I’m someone who likes plenty of time between connections. I don’t like running from plane to plane. I don’t like having to stress if a plane leaves 15 minutes late. I have an Admiral’s Club membership and don’t mind using it.

    American Airlines doesn’t share my views. They regularly reschedule my trip and leave me 50 minutes or so between flights. I have never been successful in getting them to fix that after the change is made. “The time between flights is within the allowed limits.”

    1. Great question. Sorry, I may have made an error. I meant you could change from a Paris to London departure. I’ve successfully negotiated this on quite a few occasions with domestic airlines and internationals- such as Qatar.

  2. Hey GSTP – what’s your experience of this when the impacted flight is a reward flight? I’ve had two specific incidents that required quite a bit of arguing to get onto a sensible alternative – with mixed success!

    1. Tricky. Airlines for obvious reasons don’t want this to convert into a revenue ticket, so they’d have to force space to open up. This is something most agents can’t do and don’t know how to request to do, so a supervisor would be necessary and even then, going to be a battle. But polite, good intent and solid reasoning have gotten this done before for alternate flights of your choosing.

  3. I have booked Singapore airlines (Economy class) for my trip to Melbourne in OCT 2018, The reason I booked is SQ is for their A380 flight. But in the forums I found that SQ always change the A380 to 777-300ER in OCT to Melbourne. I have already paid and booked my flight and reserved my preferred seat too in A380. If I dont get an A380, I would have gone for a cheaper airlines than SQ. What are my options if they change the A380 ? What will happened to my referred reserved window seat ? Can I request for full refund or will I get any compensation ?

  4. My airline changed my flight so now I have over a 12 hour layover between LaGuardia and Montreal. At first they changed my flight from Montreal to Toronto. They offered a refund but to reschedule a new flight was going to cost me double.

  5. I had my flıght canceled 3 tıme why d hell dıs keep happen.someone pleased tell me why???

  6. What can be done about a significant flight time change and I accepted then decided that It doesn’t work for me. I would like a refund. Is that even possible?

  7. Singapore Airlines have moved my daughter’s departure 24 hours earlier but are not interested in changing her connecting flights so she now has a 28 hour layover in Singapore. She is traveling with 2 young children and Singapore Airlines refuse to pick up the cost of a transit hotel. What are her rights?

  8. My two friends and I have just been notified our return flight has been changed by ten and a half hours earlier which means our holiday has been reduced by a day. We were charged extra because of the pandemic and altered dates. The holiday is due to commence May 2022. Apparently we are not entitled to any compensation! Is there any help out there please?

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