Does An Aircraft Swap Qualify As A Schedule Change?

Filed Under: Advice, American

While this question is generally applicable, let me frame it in the context of a specific situation many people are facing. In early January I wrote about American making a bunch of award & upgrade space available to Shanghai, which presented a great opportunity, given that some of American’s routes to Shanghai are operated by 787s with fully flat beds.

American’s 787 business class

The fare was low enough to encourage me to book such a ticket, so for $715 I booked a ticket between Los Angeles and Shanghai, which I upgraded to business class. That’s a tough value to beat, especially since I’m flying in April, before American switches to a revenue based frequent flyer program.

Quite a few people took advantage of this deal & availability, though not everyone was as lucky. A few days ago, American announced that they’re changing the aircraft flying between Los Angeles and Shanghai as of June 2, 2016. The flight will be operated by a 777-200ER, featuring American’s old angled business class product.

American’s old 777 business class

So now people who booked a flat bed to Shanghai are stuck with angled seats instead, which is especially frustrating since American flies 787s to Shanghai from Dallas and Chicago.

Gaurav asked today whether American ever allows changes to an award because of equipment changes? It’s a question I’ve received several times over the past few days.

As many of you may know, when there’s a schedule change on your itinerary you can typically make changes or cancel your ticket for free.

Does a plane change qualify as a schedule change? Not really, unfortunately. Unless they swap out the type of plane to the point that your class of service changes (like you booked first class and the plane no longer has a first class cabin), then it doesn’t really qualify as a schedule change.

Furthermore, American doesn’t guarantee seat types, so even though you’re getting a different product, they don’t owe you anything, unfortunately, since they don’t price the products differently.

Those are technically the rules. That being said, in practice I think you might have more luck than that. If you get a good phone agent and explain the situation (“I specifically booked this flight because it had a flat bed”), I suspect you might have luck.

At a minimum they’ll probably let you rebook on another routing with award availability, be it on American or another oneworld airline. But if you get a good agent and they forward the issue to a supervisor/revenue management, I wouldn’t be surprised if they also opened up business class award space on a routing through Dallas or Chicago, which would be operated by a 787.

Again, I wouldn’t count on it, and if you get an agent who refuses, I’d politely thank them for their time and hang up. But with a bit of persistence and explaining the situation, I don’t think it’s an unrealistic request at all.

American 777-200ER

Bottom line

When you really look at airlines’ contracts of carriage, they don’t guarantee very much, including punctuality, the product you’ll get, etc. A plane change will work a bit differently than a schedule change, but with a sympathetic agent you may very well have luck getting rebooked on a routing on a better plane, in the event of such a change.

Have you had luck getting your routing changed after the product was changed on you?

  1. I’d be pissed …. but I know it can happen. Usually, I will let it go.

    But recently, I had a similar issue happen with United 747=>777. And because I was prepared with alternatives, I asked nicely if they would switch me from a UA flight to LH … and it was accommodated. I was able to fly LH in F, with all the bells and whistles!

  2. I watched AA swap the 773 with an older config 772 while researching and finalizing our honeymoon to Chile this Fall. This happened on the MIA>SCL route where they had a very limited inventory of 50K seats to begin with. I ended up booking us via DFW which currently runs the 787 to SCL. We’re just at the mercy of their retrofit timeline of their large 772 fleet.

  3. I had a schedule change today. Initially was booked on AA miles for two passengers:


    One segment HND-HKG is now downgraded from F to J on CX, as they swapped aircraft from 747 to regional 777 without F. What are my options? Ideally I would like AA to contact CX liaison to open two F award seats on YVR-HKG like this:


    But something tells me it’s not gonna happen. Or should I still try?

  4. This is one of those items that should be protected by a federal Airline Passenger Bill of Rights law. If you purchase a specific product and the vendor can’t provide it exactly, then the vendor should be required to provide a full refund or product swap to a mutually agreed upon alternative. A flat bed seat is not the same as an angled seat no matter how you look at it. Just because the airline calls both seats equivalent Business Class doesn’t actually make them equivalent.

  5. Yes, but it wasn’t easy.

    Booked a FC award DFW-FRA on a 777 nearly a year in advance. AA booked the entire cabin with awards, which should have made me suspicious, but didn’t. Some months later they changed the plane on that route to a 767, which not only was old style angled flat, but didn’t even HAVE FC, just old style J. They didn’t bother to notify us, and the “my trips” on their website still said “FC”. But if you tried to book a revenue FC ticket, only J was available, bc that was all the plane had. Luckily for some reason I had just decided to check my reservation, noticed the seats numbers we were booked in didn’t match the seat numbers I had reserved, and did the research to find out why.

    First CSR refused to do anything for me, except to offer to “try” to refund the points difference between FC and J. Me: “Supervisor Please”…

    Explained to the Supervisor:
    that I spent months searching for that award, since AA was offering so little FC space,
    that we hadn’t even wanted to go to FRA, we took that bc that was all that AA had made available.
    that the plane we had reserved was now scheduled for DFW-CDG on the same date, and we would be happy to change to that (of course, no award availability was showing)
    Oh, and that I am Lifetime Gold with AA

    I don’t know if the last point made a difference or not, but she agreed to change our awards to the CDG flight. 🙂

    The zero notice still makes me mad, since AA filled the entire FC cabin in just a few days nearly a year in advance. Almost no one buys a TATL FC revenue ticket that far in advance. Which means clearly everyone was flying on awards. And then AA changed the plane with no notice. So I’m guessing most of the 16 folks who booked it didn’t find out until they got to the airport that they were stuck on an old 767 J, instead of the 777 FC they expecting to get.

    Obviously no way to know for sure, but I still wonder if AA purposely booked the entire cabin on awards, knowing that they were going to make that switch. They certainly didn’t do anything proactively to rectify the situation 🙁

  6. Mainline to Express counts as a schedule change (probably because it is a change of carrier). So, even if the time doesn’t change, you can get a refund if there is a change of carrier.

  7. @Robert. Interesting. I flew summer of 2014 on one of those DFW-FRA flights that was fully booked on awards almost a year out, and I was afraid of the downgrade. Luckily AA kept the 777 on my flight. As it turns out, I am booked again this summer on a DFW-FRA flight in F….hopefully my luck holds.

  8. I recently had this issue where I had booked on a 767 ORD-MAN and they swapped it for a 787 which is great except they changed the flight time so I’d have a 20 minute connection in Manchester which is not really likely. Then to make matters worse they took a 77w off a route coming back and where I had booked a first class award and just moved me to a seat on an old angled flat business seat on a 767 I think. I’ll get this changed because of the times and class but it seems so silly to play with the flight time.

  9. American is extremely flexible with allowing people who are switched to angle-flats to switch planes. Super flexible and this is from personal experience.

  10. I have a trip booked in March 6,that is, BOS-DFW-PVG with SWU requested, however, the BOS-DFW seems be a head of 6 minutes with a schedule change of flight number and, in the meantime, the J cabin on DFW-PVG is full i. In this case, may I change my ticket to another routing or another day for example from 6th to 7th, in this case,

  11. Lucky, is this looking like a permanent change going forward? I fly this route often and they just recently swapped in the 787 (in November I believe), which was something I was really looking forward to over the 777-200 (which they used on this route up to the switch).

  12. @mangoMan Right now AA is scheduling a 777 on that route for this Summer (at least the days I checked). You might want to check in on it from time to time though….

    @ Simon My CSR was NOT extremely flexible, and I wasn’t just being switched from flat to angled flat, I was being switched from new 777 FC, to old 767 J. All she offered me was to “try” to get me a refund of the extra miles I’d used for FC over what J would have cost. It may very well be a question of UMMV, based on the CSR you get, as Lucky mentioned in this post. I suppose I could have tried HUCA, but decided to play my LIfetime Gold DYKWIA card instead.

  13. AA’s customer support has been AWFUL for me; I’ve decided to not even risk something like this with them. There is absolutely no give and no bending the rules. I’ve been so frustrated with AA’s customer support that I’m looking at options to switch loyalty; points are no good if earning and using them is unbearable.

  14. Hey Lucky, Adam S. here from Point Me To The Plane.

    This is from a post that Matthew over on did last year.

    AA’s contract of carriage contains the following clause:


    Here is a link to the post:

    It worked for me but was a bit of a PITA as they had to look it up and confirm.

    Hope this may help some of y’all and h/t to Matthew for digging this gem up.

  15. @Ben – No offense, but are you very selective replying to questions. I raised this same question , and had Gaurav replying to me , saying that after my response he went in and checked his ticket and noticed his plane was changed to the 777-200.. By change, I hope he was not a client of yours 🙂 and this prompted the post

    Once in a while do respond to mortals like us, who follow your blog..

  16. Lucky, I followed you in and bought tickets also. When I saw the change yesterday I called them and asked to switch to Dfw (where I live). After 20 minutes on hold they offered to do that for another $500 in fare difference or give me my money back with no penalty. I took the credit.

  17. This was my case(with SWU) and I was able to get my ticket changed from LAX->PVG to LAX->DFW->PVG at no cost which will take a longer flight time. Buy I get to keep 787 business seat.

  18. Your “suspicions” are unfounded. At the end of the day, to answer the question in your post title succinctly, it’s No.

  19. OK I used miles for PVG-LAX in biz last week (thanks Lucky!) and discovered this change today from your post. I’m a 1.8MM lifetime member (lifetime Gold meh) so I hoped for a little help as the Mrs. #1 can’t stay at an angle for 11 hours and #2 can’t fly to Dallas and then be in domestic first class for 3 hours back to Cali. Bad back – surgeries etc it just doesn’t work.

    Call #1 – ask about my alternatives – told “you don’t have any – sorry”. I ask for supervisor who does offer the PVG-DFW-LAX option in Biz which I say won’t work and she again says sorry and hangs up on me.

    Call #2 – I ask when the change took place and no one can figure it out as the flight number hasn’t changed – so the basic answer is “nothing has changed”. I say that can’t be so – get supervisor. I remember that the old 777s have flagship suites – and say “what about moving to first class? I don’t mind the extra miles to keep Mrs. W happy.” Answer is sold out my day. I ask about contacting inventory to override it and I am told that isn’t allowed. I say I know it’s allowed and the answer is yes but “I’m not doing that for you” and she hangs up.

    Call #3 – I ask first when this took place and agent says she can’t tell. I say “you’ve got to be kidding” and she hangs up on me.

    Call #4 – ask to go to supervisor immediately. I ask “as a lifetime gold member what can be done – what are my options.?” I am told that she’ll waive the reinstatement fees. I say that’s basically required by the contract of carriage and after checking for a bit she agrees this would constitute a major change in type of equipment and that I’d be entitled to that anyway. Again I ask is there anything she can do and she says “what do you want?” I say I just want to travel in F on the same day and she says “why didn’t you say so?” aargh if you’d read the historical remarks you’d see what I wanted!!! (but I didn’t say that). She proceeded to sell me into A class (usually for F class upgrades) and waive the additional miles “AUTH DUE TO PAX IS LIFETIME GOLD AND DUE TO THE SCHEDULE CHANGE. PAX WIFE HAS ISSUES WITH HER BACK AND NEEDS THE LIE FLAT SEATS.”

    That’s the way to do it……..

  20. @ jack w – By “that’s the way to do it” do you mean having reps hang up on you multiple times? You got what you wanted after four calls, but if you weren’t so quick to demand a supervisor (and reined in some of the attitude) then one of the reps from one of your earlier calls might have been more inclined to help you.

  21. I think Guarav should stay with the business class seat despite the change of equipment from 787 to 777-200 . It will still be way better than the main cabin. Not the end of the world.

    Would you rather fly business class on the 787 or first class on the 777-200 ? Anyone?

  22. Short version:
    I changed planes yesterday and my new ticket displayed INVOL EQUIP CHANGE. This is something coded for, in AAs systems.

    Long version:
    We had our 77W switched to a 772 yesterday. I said to the airport ticket desk agent that we’d happily switch to a later flight on BA.

    I was told no problem. I figured this sort of thing was best done in person. I could also see the flight was oversold so knew I would be helping them out.

    I took my generic ticket to the BA desk and paid to upgrade it to F. The clincher was that there were no window seats in J but two available in F 🙂

    I started the day with a middle seat in a 7 across row of recliners and ended up with an 8 course tasting menu on an A380.

  23. @chancer – call #1 was truly a “help me” request with no help. Call #2 I figure out what would work and respectfully ask for it (willing to use more miles) – and I am told “yes we could do that but we won’t”. Call #3 doesn’t go anywhere because I have an untrained rep who can’t read history (and my exasperation is shown). Call #4 I go straight to a supervisor who has to think about it for a bit (what’s transpired, what’s right, and what’s loyalty mean to a consumer). She actually goes beyond the norm and makes a concession LARGER than what I requested. She’s a winner.

    Did I show attitude? I think when needed.

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