Airline Passenger 'Rights': More Circumstance Than Law

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"I had a nonrefundable ticket on JetBlue, but two weeks before my flight, the airline changed the flight schedule. I had planned a meeting at JFK during my connection layover, but the new schedule gave me no opportunity for the meeting. So I cancelled the flight and asked for a refund. Imagine my surprise when the airline refused to give me a refund. Instead, it offered full cash value toward a future JetBlue ticket, which I could use for a ticket for anyone. Is this right?"

My short answer here is, "No it's not right, but airlines do a lot of things that aren't right."

I checked the contracts of carriage for the eight largest lines, as above, and found that their contract provisions regarding schedule changes are all about the same:

  • In the event of a schedule change, all offer the choice between transportation on the next available flight or a full refund.
  • But all those provisions obviously apply to changes immediately before a scheduled departure or during a trip, not to changes days or weeks in advance. Oddly, none offers the option of taking an earlier flight – just the next available flight. Strange.

It seems obvious to me that if an airline reschedules your flight at any time, it owes you a full refund if the new schedule doesn't work for you, no matter what. But when my friend challenged JetBlue, the airline stuck by the "no refund" policy. I suspect he would easily win a small-claims court case, but I'm not sure whether he wants to bother.

Ed Perkins is a SmarterTravel contributing editor and a respected commentator on all aspects of the travel industry, including passenger comfort and rights, travel insurance, the best credit cards for travelers, and car rental. This article originally appeared on SmarterTravel.

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