WAFF 48 Investigates: Airline ticket cancellation fees - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Airline ticket cancellation fees

You could be stuck paying more because of a change you didn't want to make. You could be stuck paying more because of a change you didn't want to make.

When Nicole Tarczanin took a Caribbean cruise with her family, they all had a great time. But getting to the port was not exactly smooth sailing.

"Our mother immediately called us, my sister and I, in a panic, saying what are we going to do?" said Tarczanin. Months after they booked flights, the airline changed the schedule. Their plane would land ten hours later than initially planned, but that meant they'd miss the boat.

"We called the airline and they basically just told us there wasn't anything else that they could do," said Tarczanin. "All flights were booked."

The airline refunded the frequent flyer miles that Tarczanin and her family used for the tickets, but now they had to pay more than $700 for seats on a different carrier.

"We were extremely angry and upset," said Tarczanin. So, what are your rights if you're like Tarczanin and a schedule change doesn't work with your schedule? We're not talking about delays due to weather or mechanical problems, but changes made in advance that might mean your plane will leave hours earlier, or hours later, even the next day.

"If the airline has changed your flight and that flight is not convenient for you, you can absolutely get a refund," said Jean Medina, Vice President of Communications, Airlines For America.

But travel experts say a refund might not get you to your destination on time or cover possible additional expenses like an extra night in a hotel or a potentially more expensive ticket on another airline. One couple emailed that they had to cut their wedding reception an hour short because of a schedule change.

"Airlines can change their schedules without any repercussions whatsoever," said travel expert George Hobica.  There's no federal law that prevents them from doing so. If you check the fine print on many airline's websites, they have warnings like: flight schedules are not guaranteed.

The Airline Industry Association says schedule changes happen rarely, but Hobica says they could be on the rise. "Increasingly, airlines are eliminating flights. They're not flying where they used to fly."

Major carriers told us that schedule changes are an inherent part of the airline industry, and they make adjustments as necessary based on crew and aircraft availability. The Airline Industry Association says 2,000,000 people fly 25,000 flights each day, and the vast majority go as scheduled.

"Airlines want to get their customers to their destination as quickly and as efficiently as possible," said Medina.

They also want to keep you happy. Michele Mason from the Better Business Bureau in Huntsville says the best way to avoid a schedule change problem is to plan ahead.

"You have to realize in this day and age because there are a lot of adjustments to schedules, you need to pad in a lot of time to make sure you don't get yourself in a bind should there be a schedule change," said Mason.

But if you're stuck with a schedule change that doesn't work for you, take your issue to the airline's customer service division as early as you can.

"Certainly, if an airline does not accommodate or does not reimburse you, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau to get a situation resolved. And otherwise, it's really just planning ahead and knowing that you have to add that cushion in there," Mason said.

The US Department of Transportation said it's working on regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers for schedule change expenses. They also note that often, you can file in small-claims court to seek reimbursement from an airline.

For more information on your rights as a passenger, check out this guide from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the US Department of Transportation.

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