What to do if flight schedules change?

2012-08-06 09:05

While most travellers don't really think of it this way, buying a plane ticket from an airline is practically synonymous with signing a contract.

The moment the transaction takes place, you fall under something called the airline's 'conditions of carriage' and if you've never read through one of these substantial documents detailing your passenger rights, you probably should.

The importance of knowing your rights was proven earlier this year when one of our readers contated us after alleged unsatisfactory customer service from SAA/SA Express after the last-minute cancellation of a flight, due to the crew not showing up.

He wrote: "After waiting till around 4pm (his flight was scheduled to leave at 15:10), the very first announcement regarding our flight was made. We had to go to counter 5, where the SAA officer informed us the flight had been cancelled, and told us we had two options. Either fly to Johannesburg on 1Time, and catch a SAA flight to Durban, or wait till the next day."

Had he been aware of the 'conditions of carriage,' he could have enquired about a refund at the counter, as it is clearly stipulated as a third option in the contract.

In the end he opted for the Johnnesburg-Durban connection, but informed the airline about his dissatisfaction via email. They only got back to him about a week later, apologising for the discomfort and delay and offered him a 50% discount on his next SA Express flight.

To make life easier for you, we've decided to do a little series on 'conditions of carriage,' breaking a few of the most important categories down into bite-size chunks for you.

We'll start with your rights in the face of airline schedule changes, delays and cancellations.

What the contracts say

The 'conditions of carriage' will clearly state the airline's stance on schedule changes, delays and cancellations. For most airlines the schedule is not set in stone and therefore stands outside of their contract with you. For most passengers this could come as something of a shock, as flight times and departure/arrival points are a pretty integral part of travel planning.

SAAMangoBA and Kulula state the following (or variations thereof) quite clearly in their 'conditions of carriage':

"The flight times shown in our timetables may change between the date of publication and the date you actually travel. We do not guarantee these flight times to you and they do not form part of your contract of carriage with us."

1Time doesn't clearly state that it stands outside the contract, however, it is implied in the following:

"While 1time will use its best endeavours to ensure that it departs on time, it will not be responsible when flights are delayed for any reason, including, but not limited to weather, technical problems, air traffic congestion, loading and unloading of baggage, and the like."

Schedule changes

In most 'conditions of carriage' airlines stipulate that, provided the passenger provides thorough contact details, they will try to communicate any schedule changes as soon as they are aware of them.

However, no promises are made in this regard and passengers may reach the airport only to receive the unhappy news.

The remedies for the inconvenience differ from airline to airline and, as you can imagine, offering a refund is their very last resort.

BA and Kulula's contract states that they will only provide a refund for passengers put out by a schedule change in the following case: if after you bought a ticket they make a significant change to the departure time of your flight (significant is anything more than three hours), you find it unacceptable and they (or an authorized agent) cannot book you on a flight you are prepared to accept.

SAA and Mango state the following: "If, after you purchase your Ticket, we make a significant change to the scheduled flight time, which is not acceptable to you, and we are unable to book you on an alternative flight which is acceptable to you, you will be entitled to a refund."

The refund is only paid if the following conditions apply: SAA/Mango cancels a flight, fails to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fails to stop at your destination or stopover, or causes you to miss a connecting flight on which you hold a reservation.

In the latter case, if a portion of the ticket has been used, the refund will be the difference between the fare paid and the applicable fare for travel between the points for which the ticket had been used.

1Time seems to have kept their conditions simple, by merely stating: After confirmation of a reservation, no refunds will be granted under any circumstances, apart from the following:

- if a flight is cancelled by 1time

- if 1time is unable to honour the passenger's reservation resulting in the passenger being denied boarding.

Delays, cancellations and rerouting

While delays, cancellations and rerouting may form part of schedule changes, most airlines have a separate clause in their contract of carriage, stipulating their stance on these.

SAA, Mango, BA and Kulula have very similar policies where these are concerned.

While these airlines do clearly state that they will endeavour to avoid delay in carrying you and your baggage, the chance always exists that this will happen.

In this case, the airlines mentioned above offer a choice of three different remedies:

1. they will carry you at the earliest opportunity on another of their scheduled services with space available without additional charge

2. re-route you within reasonable time to the destination shown on your ticket either using their own services or that of another carrier

3. make a refund in accordance with the conditions mentioned in the above section on schedule changes.

Under cancellations 1Time only stipulates two remedies:

1. a refund

2. a spot on the next 1Time flight.

They offer no compensation for delays.

While it may seem like a bit of a schlep at the time, make sure you're familiar with your rights regarding schedule changes, delays, cancellations and rerouting before purchasing a ticket with an airline. Most airlines have "conditions of carriage" document on their websites, so go check it out.

Or any situations where the schedule was changed or flights were cancelled without notification - we'd love to hear from you, so why not post a comment below or email us at info@gotravel24.com

Read more on:    flights  |  travel south africa  |  travel tips

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