Are you aware of your rights when an airline cancels a flight or makes a flight schedule change? Knowing the rules of the game is key to taking advantage of these changes.
What to do in the event of a flight cancellation or schedule change?
Understand the changes in flight itineraries
Flight schedule changes are not new, although they are more common with the pandemic. Indeed, carriers have “carte blanche” to readjust their flight schedules up to 14 days before departure.
They can change the frequency of flights, modify the take-off time and even cancel some flights in order to optimize the use of their fleet. The planes follow an extremely strict schedule and must be in the air as much as possible.
For example, the same plane could do this in one day:
Therefore, airlines will adjust the flight schedule to allow the aircraft to maximize its utilization, to allow time for crew rotations or maintenance, etc.
In some cases, a trip booked well in advance could be subject to flight schedule changes several times!
Secondly, the pandemic makes things worse, as some planned flights cannot take place, which disrupts the schedule.
In fact, flights are scheduled several months in advance in order to generate bookings even if the carrier is not certain to operate the flight. For example, Marie Pascale’s dream itinerary around the world, booked in June 2020 for April 2021, could not be done due to sanitary measures.
Staying tuned for flight schedule changes
Most of the time, airlines will send an email (depending on your communication preferences) to inform you of a change in flight schedule, even if the change is minimal.
However, I recommend that you ALWAYS check the schedules yourself, and periodically. To do this, the ExpertFlyer tool is excellent for notifying you of flight changes without you having to do it manually.
For example, here is a message I received from the Expedia website warning me of a 5-minute change in my flight schedule from my original itinerary.
What to do when a flight schedule change occurs?
The company’s main mandate is to get you to your destination in the class you paid for. So, in the eyes of the carrier, the itinerary (one day later or one more stopover) does not matter.
Your rights when the flight is modified
When making a change, you can:
- accept the change
- refuse and get a full refund, regardless of how you paid for the ticket (in cash or points)
- refuse and change your itinerary in order to be satisfied (same class and same destination)
Depending on their policies, each company has its own definition of “significant change”. A thumb rule to remember is a minimum of two hours delay or an added connection.
That being said, when Delta Airlines changed my flight by 5 minutes, I was able to make a change and have an itinerary that worked better for me! Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Another example is when I went to Sydney to celebrate New Year’s Eve: there was only availability for a departure on December 25 with Aeroplan award tickets. So, I patiently waited (and hoped) for a flight schedule change in order to shift my departure to a different day and reduce my stopovers!
Small details to remember
When we change our flight, the carrier must put us in the same class (cabin).
However, since there are multiple fares within a booking class, the new booking may be more advantageous. Depending on the company, there can be a dozen different economy class rates!
In fact, your initial reservation at the base rate could be at the latitude rate, following the modification.
Therefore, you could:
- earn more points as a result
- need fewer credits for an upgrade
- benefit from advantages related to the new fare (baggage included for example)
In my case, I was able to earn Aeroplan points on an award ticket! My original flight was cancelled and the new booking was categorized as a cash ticket. Therefore, you must always enter your membership number.
Allowances and compensation for changes in flight schedules
Flight schedule changes, cancellations and delays that result in late arrival at destination are eligible for compensation if the carrier is responsible for the cause.
The different types of situations
|Type of situation||Duties of the carrier|
|Situation attributable to the carrier||
|Situation attributable to the carrier, but necessary for safety reasons||
|Situation beyond the control of the carrier||
Situations attributable to the carrier
According to the law, financial compensation must be paid for changes for which the customer is informed less than 14 days before the scheduled departure time.
The following is a complete list of situations where compensation may be claimed if arrival at destination is delayed by 3 hours or more:
- commercial overbooking
- mandatory regular maintenance of an aircraft
- mechanical failures raised during regular maintenance of the aircraft
- delay or cancellation of a flight due to lack of crew
- notice of change or cancellation within 14 days of departure
In Canada, large carriers must compensate passengers as follows:
- 3 to 6 hours: $400
- 6 to 9 hours: $700
- 9 hours or more: $1,000
The allowance is calculated based on the time of arrival at the destination when there is a change in flight schedule.
These rules apply to both domestic and international flights to and from Canada. It should be noted that the European rules are different.
Finally, compensation for the inconvenience caused by the changes should not be confused with additional expenses caused by the flight delay.
In the case of additional expenses incurred, you will need to look into credit card insurance for these unexpected expenses.
In short, carriers are free to change or cancel your original itinerary up to 14 days before departure. However, you will have the big stick to get your money back or to find something better!