Over the weekend, United clandestinely updated its schedule change policy in a dramatically customer-unfriendly way. There is no justification for the policy change. None.
New United Schedule Change Policy
Up until Saturday, a schedule change that resulted in an arrival of two hours or more earlier or later than originally scheduled meant a passenger could elect to refund the ticket.
Now, a schedule change of 25 hours or more will be necessary.
How much does @united want to conserve cash? Before Saturday, after a schedule change of more than two hours, United happily would refund you. The new policy is 25 hours. Spokeswoman said: “We do everything we can to rebook customers in as timely a manner as possible.” pic.twitter.com/BgEQ1PsyHA
— Brian Sumers (@BrianSumers) March 7, 2020
Yes folks, if United cancels your flight to London today but puts you on the flight the day before or day after, you’re technically stuck…even if the schedule change doesn’t work for you.
So if you have a meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday and your flight on Monday is canceled, Untied can rebook you on Tuesday, you arrive on Wednesday, miss your meeting, and United now will not allow you to cancel your ticket.
That is just wrong. It is disgusting. We don’t contract for a particular aircraft or a particular seat number, but we certainly contract to travel on a particular date and time. This schedule change gives United broad power to disrupt your travel plans without recourse.
United plans to apply this policy retroactively to previously booked tickets…an even shadier move.
Agents Still Empowered To Empathize
Of course United is going to try to work with you. Even as it seems likely United is preparing to cut its scheduled and operate some flights on an every-other-day basis rather than a daily basis, it’s not like you are necessarily stuck with a flight a day later or day before.
United will still try to get you to your destination as quickly as possible.
Just don’t bank on a refund if the new schedule doesn’t work for you.
It may pay to escalate or to be demanding on the phone…and I don’t recommend that lightly. But United tells reservation agents, “You are empowered to make the best decision based on individual situations.”
That means agents will still have discretion. Hold them to it…don’t let them tell you to send an email or reach out to United’s refund department. Each agent is empowered to cancel your ticket, if you can convince them. Use that fact to your advantage.
United told its gate agents:
Please do not send customer requests to the United.com/refunds page or the refund desk if they do not qualify for a refund. It is important that we set proper expectations and provide solutions to customers within policy.
Agents may not want to “get in trouble” by refunding your ticket, but they can.
Why The Policy Change?
United says, “This change allows us to accommodate our customers by offering more options to rebook their flights.”
Utter bollocks. Orwellian doublespeak.
It’s a a way to preserve cash. Pure and simple.
If United want to “accommodate” passengers with more options, it would allow refunds.
If United would just “fess up” I think people would be much more understanding, even though there is still no defense for its policy.
United On The Record
I reached out to United about this issue, hoping it would be adjusted before this even goes to press. Here’s its response:
“We’ve made reductions to our international and domestic schedules and know many customers are impacted as a result. Our goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption and right now, more than 90 percent of impacted customers are being put on a flight that is within 2 hours of their original booking. For any rebooking that goes beyond 2 hours, those customers can change for free or cancel altogether, and use the value of that ticket toward future travel up to 15 months from their original ticket issue date.”
That’s all well and good, but if a cancellation leads to a missed family event or business meeting, what good is the credit if no other travel is planned?
Call me foolishly optimistic, but I really think United crossed a line here. I hope that as Kirby and his team consider the negative ramifications of this action, they will quickly rescind this shortsighted, foolish policy change.