UPDATE: United now says it will offer travel vouchers – but not refunds – for schedule changes of two-plus hours, according to Cranky Flier.
United Airlines has been making big moves as coronavirus hammers the airline industry. The airline has issued a fairly generous waiver for free change and cancellation to all flights booked through March 31. As demand to fly drops, United has slashed its domestic flights by 10% – and international routes by 20%.
But this weekend, it made a change that's a slap in the face to flyers. Similar to both Delta and American, United has long offered the option for a refund if an airline schedule change altered the departure time by two hours or more. Now, it's changing that threshold to a whopping 25 hours. Brian Sumers of Skift broke the news.
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
The change took effect on March 7, and it's unclear how long it will last. American still offers refunds when it changes a flight schedule by more than two hours, while the threshold for Delta is just one hour.
After some backlash, United has clarified that it will offer vouchers – but not outright refunds – for changes of two-plus hours. You'll only be eligible for a refund for a schedule change of 25 hours or more.
This was clearly driven by the airline's shrinking flight schedule as more travelers stay home amid the coronavirus outbreak. United readily admits it: “We recently announced a significant reduction of our international and domestic schedules and as a result, we expect more customers to be impacted than normal.”
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In its statement, the airline insists it will be able to place customers on rescheduled flights “within just a few hours of their original flight.”
But United must have looked at its new schedules and realized it was potentially on the hook for a boatload of refund payments.
There's no spinning this as anything but an affront to affected travelers. It means some paying customers will get to their final destination 24 hours after what they originally booked and paid for. And they'll have no right to a refund.
Yet United still tries to spin it.
“This policy change allows us to accommodate our customers by offering more options to rebook their flights,” the airline said.
With no notice, United Airlines just made an egregiously offensive policy change. Who knows how many travelers this will affect? Regardless, changing someone's flights schedule by 20-plus hours and expecting them to swallow it is unacceptable.