What Should You Do if the Airline Changes or Cancels Your Flight?

You have made arrangements for your flights, found a hotel, and made plans for your activities. You’re all set for your trip, but then you receive an email from the airline informing you that your flight has been altered or possibly canceled. Sometimes, a change can be as small as a few minutes, but other times it can result in you reaching your destination much later than anticipated. It could also mean that your direct flight turns into two separate flights, or that your layover becomes too short to manage. In the worst cases, your flight might be completely canceled. The airline might offer you a different day for your flight, or they might cancel the entire route.

What can you do if it happens to you? We examine your choices based on the situation at hand.

Flight Cancel is not a Bad Thing

If an airline makes a big change to your flight (the definition of “big” can vary between airlines, but it can be as short as 90 minutes), you have two options: a) you can get a full refund, or b) you can request to be placed on another flight (without paying a change fee, and sometimes without having to pay extra even if the new flight is more expensive).

This means that if you didn’t want to go on the trip, it’s a good thing for you. Congratulations! You are now eligible to receive a cash refund. If you wanted to go on the trip but didn’t like your flight, you can now switch to a better one without any extra cost. For instance, let’s say you found a low-cost flight with a layover. Now, you can request to change it to a direct flight.

Flight Cancelled, But You Don’t Want to Rebook

If an airline cancels your flight, they are required to give you a cash refund. According to federal law, if an airline cancels a flight, passengers have the right to receive a refund. This applies regardless of the reason for the cancellation, and passengers can choose not to be rebooked on another flight with the same airline.

Airlines might attempt to conceal the refund option and encourage you to accept a voucher instead. Make sure you know your rights and take action. Even if you have a basic economy ticket, which is non-refundable if you choose to cancel, you can still get a cash refund if the airline cancels your flight.

If an airline is refusing to give you a refund and instead offering a voucher, here are the three main options you have.

To resolve the issue, simply end the current call and make a new one. Agents can decide who gets refunds. Sometimes, you may have better luck with one agent compared to another. Please be friendly and remember that the agent is not at fault.

If the Airline Makes a Big Change to Your Travel Plans

When you book a flight, most airlines have policies that if they make significant changes to your travel plans, will assist you in finding the most suitable alternative flight that fits your schedule. Different airlines have different criteria for what is considered a significant change. 

For most airlines, it is typically between 90 to 120 minutes, but for American Airlines, it is four hours. Alternatively, if your connection time becomes shorter than the minimum connection time specified by the airport or airline, it would also be considered a significant change.

If that’s the situation, the first step is to go online and check what other flights are offered by the airline. Then, choose the option that works best for your schedule.

If the price for the new flight is more expensive than what you paid for your ticket, don’t worry. If there is an available seat, the airline will probably move you to the requested flight without charging you extra, even if the price is higher. 

If the change is big and there are no other flights that fit your schedule, you can ask for a cash refund, even if you have a basic economy fare that is usually non-refundable. The amount of time you need to arrive before your flight depends on the airline. 

For United, it’s two hours. For Delta, it’s 90 minutes. And for American Airlines, it’s 4 hours. However, if you paid a high price for your original flight and are traveling soon, it might be difficult to find a new flight at a reasonable cost. Keep in mind that flights booked at the last minute are usually quite costly.

If Your Flight is Canceled and You Are Assigned to Another One

Maybe your flight was supposed to be on Monday, but the company canceled it and put you on a flight on Tuesday. Or, maybe you were going to fly from Portland to Philadelphia, but the airline stopped running that route, so they fly you from Portland to Seattle to Philadelphia instead. In this case, the answer is the same as what was given above. You can take the new flight, or you can look at your other choices and then call the airline to ask to be changed to a better flight. 

Again, if this change is more than the minimum times listed above, you can also get a refund (even if you bought a basic economy ticket that is usually non-refundable), but that may mean you can’t go on your trip at all.  


In summary, when faced with flight changes or cancellations, travelers have options. Significant changes can result in a refund or rebooking without fees. For cancellations, a cash refund is a right, even with non-refundable tickets. Passengers should know their rights, explore alternative flights, and assert preferences while considering minimum connection times. Understanding airline policies empowers travelers to manage these situations effectively.

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