Travel Troubleshooter: Schedule may change significantly when flight booked too early

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FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2010 file photo, a passenger walks past a Delta Airlines 747 aircraft in McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich.

Q: Months ago, I booked a September trip from Minneapolis to Milan on Delta, using my frequent flier miles. I was scheduled to come back to New York around 4 p.m. from Italy, then catch a 6:30 p.m. flight home to Minneapolis.

I received an e-mail from Delta in March saying there was a change in aircraft, to a regional jet. The return time was not affected.

A few days ago, I checked my itinerary. The final flight from New York to Minneapolis was changed. I would not be back from Italy in enough time to catch that plane.

I asked a representative from Delta why I had been booked on a flight that was impossible for me to use. She told me she didn’t know why and apologized. I also was upset that I had not even been sent a notice from Delta.

I quickly had to rebook a flight going out the next day and reserve a hotel in New York. This involves the added expense of the hotel, cabs and food. I feel Delta owes me some kind of reimbursement for more than $500 in expenses I have to add to my trip because of its mistake. I tried contacting Delta’s department regarding customer complaints and got nowhere.

 

A: You might have booked your flight too early. Airlines typically publish their schedules 330 days in advance but update them every quarter. If the carrier doesn’t have your e-mail address or a working phone number, you might not find out about a change until it’s too late.

As you are a loyal frequent flier, Delta should have had all of your contact information and let you know about the schedule change.

When an airline changes a flight, it normally offers an alternate flight of its choosing or a full refund. Delta’s “Customer Commitment” suggests it should do more. It says the airline will “provide hotel accommodations at Delta contracted facilities, based on availability, if you are inconvenienced overnight while away from your home or destination due to a delay, misconnect or cancellation within Delta’s control.”

The airline offered to return your frequent flier miles, which didn’t really work for you. I contacted Delta on your behalf, and it agreed to cut you a check for $125, as long as you sent it a hotel receipt. I think Delta can do better. When you land in New York, find the service desk and explain that you’re delayed overnight because of a schedule change. A representative may be able to find a flight that will get you home earlier, or offer you a voucher for a nearby hotel.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

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