If you buy a basic economy ticket you’re stuck with it. There are no changes or refunds. (Delta allows changes to basic economy tickets through end of 2021, however.)
Still, one thing that has improved is the elimination of change fees on most other tickets departing the U.S. on U.S. airlines and some of their foreign partners. That’s better.
What’s much worse is refunds.
- During the pandemic some airlines stopped giving refunds even when they cancelled your flight. This was clearly illegal, but carriers like United and JetBlue decided it was better for them to conserve cash on the backs of their customers and live to see a fine later. Eventually most customers got their money back from cancelled flights, but the DOT is still investigating several airlines over this. Air Canada still won’t acknowledge fault as a bad actor.
- Airlines changed their policies to limit refunds. Where a one hour flight change would be enough with some airlines to get a refund in the past, they’ve altered their policies to require four hour changes.
The Department of Transportation requires refunds when there’s a significant schedule change but doesn’t specify what significant means.
- Delta offers refunds with a two hour schedule change
- United says they refund when there’s a significant schedule change (aping the DOT language) but doesn’t say what significant means. They do appear to be back to offering refunds on two hour changes again. This shouldn’t be opaque to customers, however.
- American offers refunds when there’s a four hour schedule change. Pre-pandemic it was one hour.
- Jetblue offers refunds when there’s a schedule change of more than two hours.
When an airline sells you an 8 a.m. flight that gets you to a meeting on time, and that turns out to be bait and switch – your flight is now scheduled for 11:30 a.m. – surely you should be entitled to a refund. The airline isn’t keeping their end of the bargain, instead offering something fundamentally different.
@AmericanAir you changed my flight time two hours earlier to a time I can’t fly because I’m still working. I’d like a refund, but you won’t give it to me. Way to treat those of us in healthcare. @OneMileataTime @garyleff @TPG_Alerts
— u (@MoetiaVA) September 23, 2021
Sure, your ticket may not have a change fee. But if American’s flight is now at 11:30 a.m. you might prefer a refund in order to use the money to buy Delta’s 7:30 a.m. (United actually tortured the definition of words to say they never cancel flights as long as they still serve a route. If customers are re-accommodated days later, they haven’t been “cancelled.”)
Airlines received $79 billion in direct support from taxpayers. This doesn’t count tax breaks, money to airports that benefited airlines, or money to airline contractors. There’s little risk that the major U.S. carriers will face bankruptcy reorganization from the pandemic.
I’m not arguing that “we gave them money, they owe us better policies.” I’m simply arguing that anti-customer policies adopted under the mantra of self-preservation are no longer necessary. It’s time to revert to pre-pandemic refund rules. A three hour flight change means not giving customers what they paid for, and passengers should be entitled to their money back.