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You asked: The airline rescheduled our flight. What can we do?

In this week’s By The Way Concierge, we look at the rise of recent flight changes

(Cynthia Kittler for The Washington Post)

Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

“My daughter put off flying to see me until she got vaccinated. She booked flights to our local airport and later was notified her return flight would depart at 6 a.m. instead of noon. She’ll have to spend six hours at an airport halfway home to her city. Is there anything she can do to rebook better tickets without extra charges?” — Cheryl C., Calif.

While your daughter’s rescheduled flight is definitely a hassle (she will have to wake up heinously early for her new departure time, plus six hours is a huge layover), she might just want to keep the new itinerary unless it significantly upsets her travel plans. Here’s why.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of traveler horror stories of 10-hour delays and flights canceled at the last minute with no other way to get from A to B. The reason for the recent chaos is what Peter Vlitas, Internova Travel Group senior vice president of airline relations, calls a “perfect storm.”

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Earlier this year, airlines began ramping up their schedules to meet the growing demand of leisure travelers eager to hit the skies again. But Vlitas says even though airlines anticipated a return of demand, they weren’t expecting demand to return so robustly so quickly.

Airlines are scrambling to keep flights on schedule; however, an industry-wide labor shortage and bad summer weather have thrown a wrench into plans. It has led to more rescheduled, delayed and canceled flights.

“The schedule changes are crazy … at one point we’re seeing hundreds a day,” says Elizabeth Blount McCormick, president of international travel management company Uniglobe Travel Designers. “If it’s like five or 10 minutes, it’s not a big deal. But when you’re talking about hours, that’s when there’s a problem.”

That means your daughter is one of many, many travelers dealing with itinerary upsets.

If she wants to try to change her flight, she can ask the airline for alternative options and book a different one without a change fee.

“As long as they had booked directly with the airline, they should be able to change their flights without any fees because it was something out of your control,” says Rani Cheema, chief executive of Cheema’s Travel.

If that change can’t be done online or through the airline’s app, your daughter is going to have an uphill battle getting on the phone with a customer service agent. With so many travelers facing similar issues — and more trying to sort out vouchers from flights canceled throughout the pandemic — airline customers have been facing hours-long wait times to speak to a reservation agent (here are some tips for getting through faster).

Once you get on the phone with an airline representative, be nice to the human being on the other end of the line who has been dealing with furious customers all day.

“If you’re talking to an agent, it’s all about people and being kind,” Blount McCormick says. “We always tell travelers that sometimes [you’ll get what you want] just by smiling and being kind instead of yelling.”

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Should the other options the airline offers seem equally inconvenient and your daughter wants to cancel her flight, Vlitas says she is entitled to a refund. According to Department of Transportation regulation, if an airline significantly changes a traveler’s flight and the traveler wants to cancel the booking completely, the airline is required to give the traveler a refund (although it should be noted that every airline has a different definition of what constitutes a “significant” time change).

However, if your daughter cancels her flight and starts from scratch and needs to get home in a hurry, she might not be able to find a better ticket elsewhere. Vlitas warns that planes are so full right now that last-minute flights could be much more expensive or not available at all.

Perhaps worse yet, she could go through the trouble of finding new flights with a new airline only to have that itinerary rescheduled, delayed or canceled.

“She could have an even longer layover and this mess can happen again,” Cheema says. “I would say just stick with it … that might be an undesirable response for that person, but it just is what it is.”

You might want to tell her to keep her original itinerary, send her off with a meal and some snacks (airport concession stands aren’t all reopened, and travelers are facing long lines to get food), and remind her to pack a book to keep her occupied for that six-hour layover.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.