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Airport Passenger Rights

United Again Updates Rules About Schedule Changes—and Hits a New Low

Update: After a few iterations of policy changes in one week, United’s current policy on schedule changes is that if it can’t get you to your original destination within six hours of the original schedule, it will refund your fare—but with a catch. The refund is limited to a credit voucher good for a year rather than cash, and you can get cash only if you don’t use that voucher within a full year. The blogosphere is speculating that refusing a cash refund for a full year is illegal, but nobody has any great suggestions about how to avoid the problem.

The below original story was published on March 10, 2020.

United just changed its rules on flight schedule changes to hit a new low in a marketplace already full of lows. Until now, airlines implementing schedule changes of two hours or more usually allow you to opt for a refund. But United just changed that two-hour schedule change limit to a whopping 25 hours. Meaning: If you buy an afternoon flight for scheduling purposes, and that flight gets pushed forward or back as much as a day, you’re left with little recourse.

Here it is from United.com in their own words, with our emphasis added:

“When a schedule change happens, we try our best to provide you with options that minimize the disruption to your travel plans. In cases where the new flight options don’t work for you and one of the following scenarios applies, we may be able to offer you a refund:

  • The scheduled departure or arrival time changes by twenty-five hours or more.
  • The change causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it was originally.
  • If we are unable to accommodate you in the same cabin as purchased – refunded either the full price or the difference in fare.

If you’re not satisfied with your new itinerary and one of the above scenarios applies, please don’t accept the itinerary in Manage Reservations. Instead, you can request a refund online.”

How well would that work for you? I know it wouldn’t work for many travelers. One such traveler I know has a ticket on United in early April arriving in Newark at 5:33 pm to catch a red-eye on another line leaving at 9:40, which doesn’t count as a “connection” on United.

The above should allow plenty of connecting time, but if United reschedules the departure to a flight arriving Newark as late as 24 hours later, it wouldn’t refund the ticket.

This outrage won’t bother United’s prime business-traveler customers who typically use flexible tickets. Instead, it’s aimed squarely at average travelers on nonrefundable tickets.

So far, none of United’s competitors has said they’ll do anything similar. But (as I’ve often noted) nothing catches on faster than a bad idea in the airline industry. You can expect a howl from the consumer advocates, and maybe even from congress—but today’s DOT has proven unwilling to hear consumer issues like this one.

More from SmarterTravel:

Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuse every day at SmarterTravel.

By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.

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