As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its eighteenth month, one persnickety pain point for business travelers is the increased number of schedule changes airlines are now making.
It’s understandable—airlines remain in a constant state of revision as they try to anticipate traveler demand while working with reduced flight crews. Their guessing game is further exacerbated by the shifting effects of the virus’s variant, vaccine rollout, and ever-fluctuating restrictions from governments around the world. While the situation will most surely stabilize eventually, the increase in schedule changes is likely to continue through the coming months.
In order to protect business travelers’ rights and help them prepare for this possibility, here’s what corporate travel managers need to know and do:
Two Types of Flight Schedule Changes
There are two types of schedule changes: minor and major.
Minor schedule changes occur when an airline adjusts flight times by less than 30 minutes from the original time. Tickets, in these instances of minor change, simply need to be revalidated (as opposed to being reissued). Christopherson automatically does this for our customers and resends the updated itinerary. Travelers likely won’t need assistance from their corporate travel agent, but they are welcome to reach out if they have questions or do need assistance.
Major schedule changes occur when an airline adjusts flight times by more than 30 minutes from the original time, or when a minor schedule change causes a missed connection. In these cases, airlines require the ticket to be fully reissued. If the traveler does not get their ticket reissued, the airline can potentially deny boarding.
When a major schedule change affects an itinerary booked through any Christopherson booking method, our corporate travel agents and online support agents receive those changes from the airline. Those agents then provide travelers with the revised itinerary for confirmation and assistance in reissuing the ticket per each airlines’ guidelines. If an airline’s proposed new schedule doesn’t work, our agents can assist travelers in finding a flight that does meet their needs while still upholding your organization’s travel policies. When Christopherson assists with reissuing tickets for major schedule changes, those tickets remain integrated with our risk management technology so you can maintain your duty of care standards in spite of the schedule change and ticket reissue.
When a major schedule change occurs on the same day of travel—likely due to the airline’s crew availability or a change in aircraft—travelers can immediately reach out to their corporate travel agent for help. Travelers who monitor their flights in the days leading up to their trip and who check in 24 hours in advance are better equipped to be aware of those same-day changes. They are also able to lean on the expertise of Christopherson’s agents to remedy what can feel like a stressful situation.
What should a traveler do if their flight schedule is changed?
If a traveler experiences a flight schedule change, they can do one of three things:
- Nothing. If the new flight times work, they can accept the change and Christopherson will either revalidate or reissue the ticket, depending on the type of change it is.
- Find a different flight route. If the new schedule provided by the airline doesn’t work, travelers can work with Christopherson’s corporate travel agents to find a flight, route, and schedule that does meet their needs.
- Get a refund and start the booking over. For major changes where the flight time has been adjusted by more than 90 minutes from the original time, travelers are entitled to a full refund. Christopherson can help navigate the eligibility and process for getting a refund in these instances.
In addition to these three courses of action, travelers should also do the following:
Be Aware and Prepare
Travelers should periodically monitor their flights via their airline’s website or app, and more regularly in the days leading up to travel. The earlier you are aware of a flight change, the easier it is to handle. We also encourage travelers to check in 24-hours before their flight so they have a bit of lead time in case there are same-day or last minute changes that dramatically affect the trip. Travelers can also reconfirm (or revise, if needed) travel plans with their corporate travel agent. If travelers are given a minor or major schedule change, they need to be sure the ticket has been revalidated or reissued respectively.
Complete the Travel Profile
It is imperative that business travelers include their cell phone number in their travel profile. Having a cell phone number listed gives the airline and Christopherson the ability to communicate with you in the event that a schedule change occurs en route.
Rely on the Expertise of Corporate Travel Agents
Whether a schedule change occurs prior to a trip or en route, travelers can reach out to their corporate travel agent to ensure the changes don’t cause missed connections or affect their hotel and rental car reservations. If the airline’s newly-proposed flight times don’t work for the traveler, corporate travel agents will be able to provide the consultative expertise to work with the airline to fix the flight. They can also help you get a refund from the airline depending on eligibility.
How Much Do Schedule Changes Cost?
Airlines do not charge or refund any difference in fares for schedule changes. Because airlines require tickets to be reissued for major schedule changes, which are out of the control of travel management companies, service fees may apply to reissue those tickets.
If a major schedule change is greater than 90 minutes, travelers are entitled to a full refund. Christopherson can assist travelers with that refund process. Upon refund, travelers can then rebook with an airline that offers better flight times.
In rare instances, when neither a refund nor the new schedule are an option, an organization may decide to deposit the value of the first ticket into their unused ticket bank to use against future travel and then purchase a new ticket on an airline with a more amenable schedule.
What Can Corporate Travel Managers Do to Avoid Potential Schedule Changes?
Keep in mind that when you book farther in advance, there is a greater potential for your flight to be affected by a schedule change, possibly more than once. Until the airlines’ current schedule change situation resolves, organizations that book 60+ days in advance might consider temporarily booking closer to their travel dates. Of course, this option needs to be weighed against the possibility of reduced routes and limited seat capacity.
Corporate travel managers can consult with their travel management company to determine their best course of action understand the pros and cons of the options available.
The Bottom Line
The good news is that the current flight change situation will settle as the pandemic approaches its end and airlines are able to increase hiring and plan more stable schedules. Fortunately, organizations and their business travelers do have options in the meantime. And despite the challenges, Christopherson’s relationships with the airlines ensures that we have the information and resources you need to successfully navigate these schedule changes.