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hhonorman Apr 1, 06 12:27 pm

Any recourse if an airline cancels a flight with sufficient notice?
In general contract terms, does anyone know whether a passenger has any recourse if an airline cancels a flight after tickets have issued, and significantly changes the terms of the original bargain (next available flight is not for 24 hours) do they have any obligation to the passenger other than to put them on the next available flight, if sufficient notice (a month) is given to the passenger regarding the schedule change? In my research of opinions on the issue thus far, the concensus is that the only remedies available to the passenger are to take the new flight, or cancel the ticket without penalty and get a refund.

If the changes to the original contract terms are minor, such as next flight is within a few hours, I can see how putting the passenger on the next flight, or offering a refund of the ticket would be a reasonable remedy. If the changes are not minor, and require the passenger to incur additional foreseeable expenses as a result of the airlines breach of the terms of the original bargain, shouldn't the passenger have additional recourse to recoup their reasonable out of pocket expenses (such as the cost of a hotel, if the next flight is not for 24 hours)?

For purposes of this discussion please assume:

The flight is canceled because the airline CHOSE to cancel it for reasons entirely within its control, and not because of force majeur, weather, etc.

Also lets stipulate that they have given the passenger sufficient notice of the change (example, one month's notice.)

Let's also assume, for purposes of this discussion, that the passenger can't take any other transportation other than what is offered (the next flight on the same airline). Let's assume flights on other airlines or travel by train, car, etc. are not available options.

Let's also assume the next available flight is not for 24 hours.

Your thoughts?

Would the outcome be affected by whether or not the ticket was paid for with cash or miles? If so, how?

Would the outcome be different if the ticket were paid for with miles from Airline #1, but used on that airline's partner airline?

Bukhara Apr 1, 06 5:00 pm

I suspect that two keywords in your thread title, namely 'sufficient notice', pretty much answer your question.

Rebooking alternative airlines/destination will be at the discretion of the airline involved.

hhonorman Apr 1, 06 5:35 pm

Isn't a breach of a deal still a breach, even if there is sufficient notice?

bicker Apr 1, 06 5:36 pm

Airline tickets are promises for transportation on a specific day, not at a specific time.

hhonorman Apr 1, 06 5:43 pm

Ok, but if they change the flight to the next day, isn't that a breach of the original agreement?

cordelli Apr 1, 06 9:01 pm

Don't believe they promise you transportation on a specific day. I think they promise you transportation, and by offering you a refund, they are allowing you the option to cancel.

I just had US Air do this, they canceled a flight I am on in May, they didn't tell me I noticed the itineary was messed up, and their only offer was a refund or fly the day before. I asked about putting me on another airline, they laughed. They repeated I had the option of a full refund if I didn't want the earlier day.

I should have played dumb, I should have flown down and pretended I didn't know it so they would put me on another airline, but with my luck I would be stuck for days waiting for a seat.

If they didn't offer you a refund, then maybe you had a case, but as long as the refund is offered, they are probably covered on their end of the carriage.

hhonorman Apr 2, 06 12:20 am

How can the airlines claim that it isn't a contract to provide transportation on a specific date, or even a specific time, when they charge different (sometimes dramatically different) prices to travel at a specific time on a specific date? For them to be able to change the date/times without consequence after a deal has been struck doesn't seem either fair or equitable, especially considering since most often the price goes up as it gets closer to the date of departure, that the cost to procur replacement transportation equivalent to that originally bargained for will likely be much higher than what was originally paid. Imagine you contract to buy a new sedan and the dealer, after the contract has been signed, says he will only give you a sedan with a ding in the fender or your money back. Now consider that the cost of new sedan in the marketplace has increased in between the time you entered the contract and the time the dealer says he's going to breach the original deal. If your only rememdy is to take the sedan with a ding or get your money back, either way you suffer. A refund of the original price does not make you whole because the cost to get a replacement for the sedan you contracted for has now increased in price, and your refund won't cover the current cost. In that case, we'd all agree that you should be placed in the same position as you had bargained for, such that the dealer should be liable for the difference between what you contracted, and the cost to procur a similar replacement. Are you saying that isn't the case with the purchase of an airline ticket?

I can't think of too many other contractual situations where one party can unilaterally change the terms of a deal after the bargain has been completed, and the other party's only remedy is to accept an inferior product than what was originally paid for, or get a refund and no product. How come the airlines are not forced to make the other party whole? In any other contractual situation, the party who is breaching the agreement can be forced to pay the difference between what was paid for the original product that wasn't provided, and the cost to procur a replacement product of similar quality to what was bargained for. Can someone explain why is it different for the airlines?

rkkwan Apr 2, 06 1:22 am

hhonorman - Your problem is that you're only looking at DISCOUNT FARE. You buy a discount fare and you lose a lot of your rights. If one doens't like all this "unfair" practice, just go buy full fare all the time. The airlines do sell them. If one airline can't deliver, get your money back and go with another one.

In fact, you can buy plane ticket at last minute for most destinations, except for a few days in a year. Then you won't have the problem to start with. :)

"Unfortunately", many travelers, especially leisure travelers rather would pay less and accept the restriction imposed by the airline. Well, those people do that in their free will. So, how can they complain?

notam2 Apr 2, 06 3:51 am

Don't think of it as a breach of contract. If the contract stipulates that, with sufficient notice, the airline can change your itinerary, and your only recourse is a full refund or the new itinerary, then the airline could be considered to be exercising its contractual right to change your itinerary (or provide a refund). I think a standard contract of carriage allows airlines the ability to do this, it is just a real pain when they choose to exercise this right.

bicker Apr 2, 06 6:38 am

(talking about the major airlines, here, of course...)

Ok, but if they change the flight to the next day, isn't that a breach of the original agreement?
Yes, and what you're entitled to is a refund.

Don't believe they promise you transportation on a specific day.
They do.

How can the airlines claim that it isn't a contract to provide transportation on ... a specific time
By putting it in writing in the contract.

For them to be able to change the date/times without consequence after a deal has been struck doesn't seem either fair or equitable
Fair and equitable are subjective judgements. In compliance with the contract is an objective judgement, and trumps a passengers personal subjective perspective.

How come the airlines are not forced to make the other party whole?
Because the contract that the passengers agreed to says so.

cordelli Apr 2, 06 9:37 pm

Virtually all airlines have something like this in their contract of carriage

American is not responsible for or liable for failure to make connections, or to operate any flight according to schedule, or for a change to the schedule of any flight. Under no circumstances shall American be liable for any special, incidental or consequential damages arising from the foregoing.

Delta will use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch. Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Delta may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, and may alter or omit stopping
places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Delta is not responsible or liable for making connections, or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule or any flight.

You agree to these when you bought your tickets. Nobody ever reads them, but we all agree to them. We agree that the airline is not liable to any schedule changes, plain and simple.

SingaBear Aug 31, 06 9:43 am

It's Deja Vu All Over Again
I am having the exact same situation with Thai Airways. Their Contract of Carriage is very clear, yet they have been unwilling to abide by the terms.

A month after I purchased two round-trip business-class tickets I found out they had cancelled both the outbound and inbound flights I purchased. According to their Contract, they will, at pax option, book pax on an alternate flight which is acceptable to pax either by their own services or those of another carrier. Article 9.

Because they do not have any flights for the date I have booked, I asked to be book on any one of four alternate flights, including two on one of their alliance partners. They have refused and are only willing to put me on Thai flights one day earlier than booked, and without any accommodation for the 24+-hour layover they are imposing in both directions.

After two weeks of back-and-forth thru the TA, I was advised today that Thai has withdrawn the offer and wants me to take a refund.

In his article Flight or Fight: The Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, Timothy M. Ravich wrote, "When passengers purchase tickets for air travel they do not imagine their final destination as a court of law. Passengers merely want to get to wherever it is they are going. Laws intending to help passengers after the fact obviously do nothing to prevent such fact from happening in the first place. Airlines, meanwhile, have every business, as opposed to legal, incentive to serve their customer."

I feel very strongly that Thai Air is in breach of contract and acting in bad faith. But short of a court of law, what's passenger to do?

Ironically, this is from Thai Airways Code of Ethics:
8. Honor promises and terms offered to clients, and where it is impossible to do so, inform them promptly so that a suitable solution can be found.
9. Refrain from setting conditions that are unfair to the clients.

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