You've booked your flight and are ready for your trip, when the airline sends you an email to notify you of a flight schedule change.
Passengers are regularly affected by a modification of their flight schedule, now more than ever as a result of COVID-19. With most flights cancelled because of coronavirus, passengers are left with the option to either get a refund for flight cancellation or change the flight schedule.
In general, the further in advance you book your flight, the higher the chances of having a schedule change.
While this may ruin your trip, know that when this happens, passengers can sometimes claim a flight schedule change compensation.
But that isn't always the case. Sometimes, you just have to accept the change of flight time. You may also be entitled to a refund or rerouted via a different flight.
Flight Schedule Change due to Coronavirus
Let's get one thing out of the way first: because it is (thankfully) an extraodinary circumstance, coronavirus doesn't make you eligible for compensation when your flight is cancelled as a result of it.
While airlines are not obligated to compensate passengers, most of them have set up policies that consist in offering one of two things:
- A travel voucher for you to travel with them at a later date when air traffic will be back to normal
- A refund of your ticket
In general, we do NOT recommend accepting travel vouchers as compensation. However, the air travel industry is among the most seriously hit by the pandemic. Air carriers especially are at risk, with several of them having already declared bankruptcy or been nationalized.
That's why when given the option, we encourage travellers who believe that they will fly with the airline in the future to accept the voucher rather than the refund, as it will help your air carrier financially.
Of course, the decision is yours, and you may have been finally affected yourself, so the refund is also an option!
Flights Schedule Change Rules
What is considered a change of schedule?
A flight schedule change occurs when the airline announces a change to your flight time after you’ve booked your ticket. There are 3 categories of flight change: minor, significant, or cancellation.
Each airline has their own definition of what constitutes a "minor" or “significant” schedule change. Usually, a significant change is one that doesn't fall within the limits of what they have defined as a minor delay.
For example, an airline can define a schedule change as "minor" when they postpone the flight to less than 6 hours later than what was originally planned. If the time of your flight is delayed by over 6 hours, then you're victim of a "significant flight schedule change".
The distinction matters because it will influence what your rights are. More on that below.
A flight schedule change can also occur when your direct flight becomes a connecting one, or when the airline change the aircraft that will operate the flight.
However, if the airline changes your flight altogether (i.e. you will travel on a flight that has a different flight number than the one you initially book), this is regarded as a flight cancellation instead of a flight schedule change.
What are your rights when the airline modifies the time of you flight?
Your rights depend on the type of schedule change. And the definition of type of schedule change varies from one airline to another.
We've listed what is regarded as a minor change by some airlines below. To know what your airline defines as a minor delay, refer to their Terms and Conditions.
- Minor change
Passengers victim of a minor schedule change have generally no choice but to accept it. If this happens to you, feel free to ask a refund or an alternate flight, but keep in mind that you are not covered by any law and the airline doesn't have the obligation to refund or reroute you on a different flight.
- Significant change
A significant change of schedule gives passengers more options. In most cases, the airline will offer you the choice between getting a refund or a rerouting on a comparable flight.
Note that if the airline offers you a rerouting as an alternative to the schedule change, you do NOT have to accept it if the flight is not to your convenience. In this case, contact the airline to ask for a different flight or a refund.
- Flight cancellation
If the airline cancels your flight altogether (or presents a change of flight as a schedule change), you have even more rights. First, you must be offered a choice between a refund for cancelled flight or an alternate flight.
Then, you may also be entitled to a flight cancellation compensation. For that, the airline must have warned you about the cancellation less than 14 days prior to the flight. The exact notification date influences the flight compensation amount.
Was your flight cancelled? Or did the airline changed your reservation to book you on a different flight? You may be entitled to up to 600€ in compensation!
Flight Schedule Change Compensation
Can you get compensation if the airline changes the flight schedule?
To be entitled to compensation for a flight schedule modification, the airline must have notified you about the change less than 14 days before the flight.
The schedule change must consists of either:
- a flight cancellation, or
- a flight change (i.e. when the flight number is different than the one that you originally booked)
The compensation amount varies based on when you were notified and the length of the journey. It varies between 125 and 600€ per passenger. You can use the Compensation Calculator below to know how much the airline owes you:
Can you get a refund if the airline changes the flight schedule?
Except in the case of "minor flight schedule change", you can get a refund when the airline modifies the schedule of your flight. In other words, you're entitled to a refund in cases of "significant flight schedule change" and flight cancellations.
Note that the airline may offer you a rerouting instead of a refund. As mentioned before, if the alternate flight doesn't suit you, feel free to reject it and ask for a refund instead.
Flight Schedule Change FAQ
Can flight times change after booking?
When you book a flight, you agree on its schedule. However, all airlines reserve themselves the right to change the time (and sometimes even the date) of the flight, as per their terms and conditions. Specifically, airlines do not guarantee flight times and stress that those are not part of the contract of carriage.
Here's an example with this extract from American Airlines' contract of carriage:
"Sometimes we have to make adjustments to our operation, and between the time you book and the day you depart [...]. When there are changes that affect your trip, we'll try to contact you in advance and move you to a similar seat, though we can't make any guarantees. We do our best to be on time but our flight schedule is not guaranteed and not part of this contract. We are not liable if we're late or you don't make your connection, or we change the schedule of any flight."
And another from British Airways' contract 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.
Regulators like the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) confirm this: while a change to the flight number is covered by the law, a modification of the flight time and date is only covered by the airline’s terms and conditions.
How much can an airline change your flight?
There is no specific limit to how much the airline can change your flight time. However, all airlines define the limits of what they consider to be a "minor schedule change".
Here are a few examples:
- American Airlines: 1 hour
- British Airways: 2 hours
- EasyJet: 5 hours
- Ryanair: 3 hours
- United Airlines: 30 minutes
As a rule of thumb, if your delay at arrival or departure exceeds this amount of time, the flight schedule change is regarded as "significant" and the airline will offer a rerouting or a refund.
Why do airlines have schedule changes?
Airlines make tickets available for purchase about 12 months prior to the flight, but the airports can confirm the time slots only about 3 months prior to the flight, which can result in schedule modifications.
Airlines themselves can change their schedule, especially when the aircraft that will be used changes.
How will I be warned about a schedule change?
Airlines should tell passengers at least 14 days in advance when they change their flight time. The airline usually contacts you via email to tell you about the schedule change.
You may also log into your account or call the airline directly to inquire about schedule changes.
For last-minute schedule changes, you can use an online flight tracker.
How do I accept or refuse a schedule change?
Usually, you don’t have to do anything when you agree to the schedule change. Just present yourself at the airport after checking-in.
If you want a different flight or a refund, however, you must contact the airline. You can usually get in touch with them over email, via phone, or from the “manage my booking” section of the airline’s website.
Victim of a schedule change? Check if you're entitled to compensation now! It takes less than 3 minutes:
If you're still intent on travelling during the coronavirus outbreak, make sure to check our travel advice on the topic:
- Coronavirus: Can you get a compensation for a cancelled flight?
- Is air travel safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Am I able to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Can I get a refund for a flight cancelled during to COVID-19?
- Coronavirus travel restrictions: Can we travel again?
- Can I travel if I have COVID-19?