Airlines are changing schedules; here’s how to handle inconvenient new flight times

Aug 2, 2021

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Back in June, when Southwest Airlines was having its 50-year anniversary sale, I jumped at the chance to book flights through November. But a funny thing happened since I made my bookings — all of my flights, except for one, have had major changes.

Brett Snyder, who writes The Cranky Flier blog, blames two things: the pandemic and the airline’s Amadeus reservation system. “Southwest used to have the cowboy reservations system, based on one Braniff used,” he recalled. “Southwest then switched to Amadeus in 2017, although they didn’t have full functionality on the first day.”

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Travelers check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Before Amadeus, Southwest had the ability to make schedule changes — but they were done manually to reaccomodate passengers, said Snyder. “So it didn’t happen much. But now that function is automated, allowing them to do more,” he said.

Southwest now has a pattern when it comes to schedule changes. “First, it creates an aspirational schedule. Then a month or two out, it makes cuts or changes with a better sense of reality,” said Snyder. “Then they start adding back to the schedule.”

The pandemic impacted demand so much that it made reservations unreliable, said Snyder. “What they do is thin out the schedule when demand is down, but that changes constantly,” he said. “The one constant is they keep changing the schedule and pissing everyone off.”

According to Southwest, “Passengers are seeing itinerary changes following demand-informed changes our to flight schedule that were pushed out in the September-October timeframe, with travel demand entering its post-summertime shift. And unique to 2021, the airline is still dealing with the absence of normal demand for business and corporate travel, which continues to shape and force scheduling decisions against our planned capacity.”

The airline is offering new itineraries, apologizing to travelers for any changes that won’t work, along with help making any additional flight changes.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

Southwest isn’t alone in these schedule changes. It’s happening on all airlines. The Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney recently highlighted how frustrating it can be to passengers. His weekly column featured Delta Air Lines and noted that all these schedule changes are adding to the long waits to speak with representatives at airline call centers. The airline declined the opportunity to comment.

After checking in with the TPG Women and TPG Lounge Facebook groups, I found I was far from alone with these Southwest changes. More than 200 comments (and counting) later, members shared their stories too. Comments have been lightly edited for content.

Joann Finley: This has been happening to all my flights in this not-yet-post-pandemic world. Sometimes it works in my favor, as I’ve been able to use the free change to get a better flight time that was previously way more expensive. But sometimes it’s been a real PITA when the remaining flight times aren’t ideal.

David Starkman: I had a flight change from Saturday to Sunday and I ended up changing it to Friday and my Tuesday return changed from 3:30 p.m. to 11:00 a.m., which was fine. The option I had for Saturday after they changed my flight to Sunday was a nondirect with a five-hour layover and a midnight arrival. What a joke.

Kandyce Horn: All four flights I have on Southwest between now and October have had time changes. I’ve also had two of them change from nonstop to having layovers.

Terry Stanton: I understand that flights change, but I’ve got a long Southwest flight in September that was changed from a nonstop to a stop with change, adding two hours to my journey. I was mildly irritated when I looked at their schedule and saw there was a new nonstop leaving a half-hour earlier. They let me switch to that, but I think what they should have done was at first offer me that option rather than just switching me to an inferior itinerary. If the airline makes the change, they should proactively offer you the best possible option — or at least offer you options.

Suze Michael: Constantly, and half the time, the changes get changed. Also, if you checked in and got a great boarding number and the change happens within hours of your flight, your boarding numbers are now invalid and you have to check in again. I normally check in at exactly 24 hours.

Melody Schimmel Bechler: Yes, my family has had nearly all September flights changed. The ability to change for free turned out to be super convenient, but Southwest still changed the flights originally, nonetheless.

Related: The 9-hour wait: Here’s why airline hold times are so bad

What to do if your flight schedule changes

If you are dealing with a flight schedule change made by your carrier, you do have some options:

  • Research other flight options on the airline and then call the carrier to request they change your reservation to reflect that itinerary. Just be aware that hold times with most airlines can get quite long these days.
  • Reach out to the airline’s Twitter handle. Some airlines can accommodate changes or at least provide additional advice how best to get through to someone at the airline that can help.
  • Request a full refund and rebook with another carrier that’s offering better flight times.
  • Keep the changed flights but ask the airline for some type of compensation. Hey, it never hurts to ask for a handful of frequent flyer miles and the worst they can say is no.

Bottom line

As travel continues to surge — along with cases of the COVID-19 delta variant — we expect these schedule changes to continue. Airlines are still trying to hire workers to meet demand, along with making adjustments to accommodate it.

We recommend checking your reservations regularly so you’ll have a better chance to book the alternate flights you want. If those alternatives don’t work, request a refund so you can book on another airline.

Related: Why you should wait to change or cancel your flight if you want your money back

Featured photo by John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock

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