Why don’t airline schedule changes guarantee a refund??

Of late the DoT has been rather aggressive in regulating airline behavior in favor of the customer. Most of these rules have been related to fares and advertising but there have been others as well. So it was a bit out of character last week when the DoT ruled against a petition from a passenger, siding with the airlines when it comes to schedule changes. The agency essentially said that regulating such changes would be unreasonable and that requiring refunds in all cases would make it unfeasible to operate the airlines. The DoT also notes that flight schedules are not actually part of an airline’s contract of carriage. This seems counter to the recent ruling on fare changes where airlines were prohibited from enforcing certain provisions of the CoC if they were considered in violation of the DoT rules.

Overall probably not that big a deal. And expecting a full refund for any change to a schedule was probably reaching a bit too far. But if the airlines really aren’t required to maintain the schedule at all that could open up some interesting gray areas in the way the CoC provisions are enforced. Especially for the airlines which actually have clauses about schedule changes in their CoCs.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. LOL.
    The problem with schedule changes is that people don’t put contact information in their reservations. So when the changes occur, the airlines/travel agencies/ticket providers have no way to contact them. So the customers show up at the airport on day of departure and either have no reservations or have missed their flight, etc. Some of the schedule changes can be very, very bad.

    Also, what happens is that people buy tickets on different airlines in order to save money, so when the schedule changes occur they are sometimes hosed since the trips no longer match up.

    Really the customer needs to be aware of all these things when purchasing their tickets. Its not always about that low fare.

    The nature of the industry as you know is that changes are made to the schedule for several reasons.

  2. Sure, Kerwin, the airlines have to be able to alter their schedules a bit from time to time to make things work. At the same time, however, there has to be some give and take which allows passengers some recourse. I don’t think that a 5 minute change deserves a full refund in most cases but adding (or removing) a stop en route or changing the times by an hour might actually be a significant difference. Even a very aware customer – I consider myself one – can get burned by such changes and it isn’t always fair.

    I think that the DoT was correct in this case in the way they ruled, but let’s not pretend that the airlines should be able to do whatever they want once a passenger buys a ticket.

  3. I find it amazing how airlines and some other travel companies are able to operate in ways that NO OTHER business could, and they continue to receive protections other industries could only WISH for. In MOST businesses, if what you contract for is changed, or cannot be delivered as ordered, you MUST be given the option to cancel/renegotiate. This is NOT true for airlines, however. This reminds me of the fuss airlines made about the tarmac rule, as if having to feed people and allow them basic human conveniences was something that needed to be REGULATED, but amazingly, it DID.

  4. If I were to order a shirt, and I ordered the shirt in XL and in green, and the store sent me an orange shirt in L…they can’t FORCE me to take it.

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