I Learned Something New: Aircraft Swaps Qualify As Schedule Changes

Filed Under: Advice, American

Yesterday I wrote a post about an issue several readers are facing, where American is changing the equipment on the Los Angeles to Shanghai route as of June. The flight is being swapped from a 787 to an old configuration 777, meaning passengers are going from a flat bed business class product with direct aisle access, to an angled business class seat with seven seats per row.

American’s 787 business class

American-Business-ClassAmerican’s old 777 business class

Readers wanted to know if they could request to be rerouted via another city so they can keep the flat bed business class product they booked. My answer was basically that I thought the contract of carriage didn’t cover something like that, but in practice it’s something a good agent should be willing to help with if you explain the situation.

How inconsistent are airline phone agents?

As is the norm with everything involving airline phone agents, experiences were greatly varied. For example, reader Duke reported the following positive resolution:

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.

Meanwhile reader Michael reported a negative resolution:

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.

Meanwhile reader Jack reported being upgraded on the flight to first class for free (wow!), after four calls:

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.”

A free upgrade to American’s (old) first class? Not bad!

You actually are protected when plane types change

There’s more to this than the above experiences, though. As it turns out, consumers actually have a lot more protection than I expected in such situations, as aircraft swaps are covered in American’s contract of carriage, via Matthew at Live and Let’s Fly. American’s contract of carriage specifically says the following (bolding mine):


This means that your rights when a plane type changes are the same as if you have a schedule change that impacts your flight’s arrival or departure time by more than two hours, which more or less gives you free reign to make changes.

I’m guessing most American agents aren’t familiar with the above being in the contract of carriage (I didn’t even know it was), so if you’re going to try to make a change to a reservation due to an aircraft swap, it might be worth pointing them to that section of the contract of carriage.

Bottom line

As you can see, even without the above policy being official, peoples’ experiences were extremely mixed, as is the norm when dealing with an airline call center. One person was told it would be $500 to change a routing, one person was allowed to make a change for free, and another person was even upgraded to first class for free after four phone calls.

It’s nice to know that the above “protection” against aircraft changes is official in the terms & conditions, though.

  1. $500 was fare difference. While all the others allowed to make a change were using miles for the tickets already. So that makes sense?

  2. Echoing Ted above, so does anyone know what one could reasonably expect if this happened on an award ticket on a partner airline? That scenario seems much murkier.

  3. OMG thank you for posting this! You just saved our family $1,200. We have been struggling with American Airlines to cancel a ticket to Bogota due to the Zika virus. While my newlywed daughter is not pregnant she plans to become pregnant this fall. AA cancellation policy would not allow us to cancel or change these tickets without penalty. Your post however prompted me to look at any changes in our flight schedules. Amazingly our departure time was changed by two hours after ticketing! We will be refunded in full.

  4. I don’t believe a word this entitled c jack says. If the back is that bad, stay home – won’t be able to do anything on the trip anyway. Also, no way 3 agents “hung up” on him. Then he drops the dykwia. What a douche.

  5. @ Ben — Excellent, thanks! I’ve always found AA agents to be the most strict about changes, so this should be extremely helpful information! With top status, DL and UA will pretty much will make whatever changes you request, but AA not so much…

  6. What in the heck was Jack doing? I’ve called AA many times with weird requests (as a lifetime tin member) and never been hung up on.

    I suspect some manners and friendliness would have gotten the upgrade in fewer than four calls.

  7. @ Ben — Sorry for the bad grammar, but we’re between AA A321T F redeye and EY Apartments, so I’m a bit, um,… sleepy 😉

  8. I’m with Rick….. I’ve argued contract of carriage with many agents and never had them hang up on me. Jack would have needed to be a complete Jack*** to get that reaction…….. Douche indeed!

  9. Does anyone know if this also applies to award bookings made through United Airlines for travel on one of their Star Alliance Partners (i.e. Air Canada)?

  10. What a wonderful pattern of phone agents repeatedly hanging-up on you. Itś happened to me before, as well. You´d think they´re as stressed-out as air-traffic controllers, or something.

  11. I have a roundtrip to Europe this June with a lot of stops in business class (BA to Europe, AA back). One of the return legs from BCN to JFK changed from a 767 to an old 777-200. Do you think they’ll allow me to change the entire routing of the roundtrip to be a lot more direct just because one of the legs changed aircraft?

  12. The contempt that AA reps show to passengers (even elites) is quite shocking, and one of the main reasons why I continue to stick with Delta.

    I’ve never had a Delta agent hang up on me. Not once. Hanging up on a customer should be a serious offense, but not at AA I guess. SMH

  13. Jack = worst person ever. I’m suspicious that any “The Mrs” allegedly married to him hasn’t already divorced him.

  14. On the one hand, I have to agree that Jack does sound like a jack**s who deserved to be hung up on – if indeed that’s what really happened. I have my doubts. I’ve had plenty of rigid ones but never one that hung up on me. On the other, I have to agree with other comments that AA agents are generally way less accommodating than DL agents. There’s no free lunch. AA = worse airline/better FF program (for a little while longer anyway); DL = better airline/stingy FF program. But for the AA Lifetime Platinum status my partner enjoys we would be reassessing our airline loyalty.

  15. Ben, unless I am reading it wrong, the language does not say that changes are free, only that cancellations are free. It appears to me that any reroute that increases the fare, the passenger would still have to pay the fare difference. If the equipment swap happens close to departure, and I have to go to where I am going, it seems there isn’t actually much recourse since the fare difference on a rerouting could be substantial.

  16. Remember that to get the changes we want, we need the reps’ help. There is no benefit to being rude to the person at the other end of the line even if they are poorly trained as jack w claims or less than friendly themselves.

    Also, let’s not forget that those airline reps have unfettered access to our reservations. Years ago, my dad called to change the dates of his United flight. All went well with the call but when the rep was reading back the reservation details, the line went dead due to a dropped signal. He called back and a different rep confirmed his new dates. When my dad showed up at the airport to check in for his flight (this was before online checkin was common) the person behind the desk said my dad’s ticket was canceled and that my dad was the one who had canceled it. Not a schedule change but FLAT OUT CANCELED. There is no way that my dad called and canceled his ticket and no one we knew could have canceled as we were the only ones who had his reservation details, that is other than United. For whatever reason someone at United canceled my dad’s ticket without bothering to tell him. It could have been anyone at the airline, but I’m guessing it was the rep who though my dad had hung up on her.

  17. @chancer Given that you are talking about United airlines, that is very easy to believe. I live in a United hub city (SFO) but had such consistently bad experiences with them that I have avoided them for the past six years. Instead, I am now Platinum with American.

  18. I’ve been hung up on twice by AA agents in the last year. They just didn’t want to deal with the problem. I am always polite with them.

    AA does have some great reps. It is pure joy when you get a good AA rep the phone.

  19. AA CSRs aren’t great, and I haven’t noticed much of a difference between the people on the execplat line vs their regular line.

    That said, I’ve never had one hang up on me. Jack sounds like a real gem. Guessing his file has some fairly unkind notes.

  20. … and the back thing? Christ… true or not, that’s the oldest line in the damn book. I can practically hear the CSRs rolling their eyes when you whinge about that.

  21. Echoing Andrew @1:29pm, this contract language does not give the passenger “free reign.” It simply waives cancellation and change fees, but maintains the requirement that the passenger pays the difference if s/he wants a rerouting.


  22. Have a booking made with Virgin Australia (VA) SYD-LAX-JFK with the LAX-JFK being a VA code share on Delta. The original DL flight was on a wide-body 767 in Business Class, seating 1-2-1.

    Got advised by VA last week that my LAX-JFK code share flight number had changed and with a later departure time. On checking the DL website I realized I had been switched to a narrow body 757 with 2-2 seating. I also was able to see that there was still a DL flight at the original time (also with a VA codeshare flight number) I had been scheduled for but it was now a wide body A330-300 with 1-2-1 seating.

    Called up VA and said I was not happy with the schedule change and change of aircraft and they were more than happy to re-booked me on the A330-300 DL flight at the original time I had wanted to fly..

  23. Just had a pleasant experience with AA about this. A few months ago I booked FC Saver for DW and myself from LAX, change at DFW, to LHR. Decided we wanted to continue on from LHR to EDI the same day, which would have been allowed for no more miles, but I hadn’t booked it that way. Plus getting us to LAX, mainly to start out with the Flagship Lounge, no longer seemed so appealing. Normally a $175 fee to redeposit and rebook. 🙁

    Luckily there was a schedule change, and our 2 hour layover at DFW was now only an hour. I looked up the flight stats, and there was a 20% chance of the first leg being over 30 minutes late. Domestic to Intl at DFW means changing terminals, and there was no way we would make that in time if the plane was even 30 minutes late, much less later. And since the LHR flight left around 10pm, booking us on a different flight that same night, with any airline, would be highly improbable. Clearly we were entitled to change to an earlier flight out of LAX, but not necessarily both a change of origin, and adding the BA flight as well.

    Called AA, and happily got a CSR who was not only pleasant, but also very efficient. Spent maybe 2 minutes explaining what had happened and what I wanted to do. Never needed to even mention Lifetime Gold. Rebooked without charge on a new routing, from our hometown to DFW, an earlier flight out of DFW, and a continuing flight from London to EDI. Had to pay some extra taxes/fees for the added BA flight, but that’s not AA’s fault. Based on the comments above, I guess I got lucky. 🙂

  24. Wow. Done with sharing good and bad experiences. It was never my intention to get the upgrade for free – and after 4 back surgeries the Mrs CAN do the long trips with a flat bed and we pay for it. Denying her the ability to travel would be devastating – so we are careful and angle flat wouldn’t work.

    Absolutely I was upset that calls 1-3 didn’t end with a workable solution and that will color ANYONES demeanor. Never did I use profanity nor put down an employee of AA. Yes the “you’ve got to be kidding” comment probably ended call 3 early but there are functions ALL CSRs should know and I was blown away by the response.

    Sharing my experience was to show there are good CSRs along with the bad. Sorry that I seem like a douche or a Jack*** to some. No more posts from me!!! Sorry Ben!

  25. Dude, I’m sure you are a good person at heart. Almost everyone is. Just saying the whole flies, honey, and vinegar thing. It’s something we can all work on.

  26. Jack and I have a similar experience. I had J confirmed on a 77w. Equipment was swapped to a 772. I called AA and the first agent was clueless so I asked to speak to a supervisor. That person, on the first call, upgraded me to F without any additional mileage to get a single aisle full bed seat. I couldn’t be happier with the AAgent and what happened.

  27. Yes I agree with previous posters that the rules are a bit meaningless if they can impose a higher fare for re-routing on different flights/dates. If they’re not aware of point (III) concerning aircraft change, they’re probably not aware they can impose a higher fare for re-routing. Personally, I would go ballistic if they tried to charge me more money if they made any of the above changes (except aircraft type) that impacted my journey. Schedule changes happen to me regularly on AA with both award and paid tickets and I have never had any trouble getting re-routed or re-booked in non-award class seats although sometimes I’ve had to insist. In fact, a few years ago I had an award ticket flying Ottawa – Chicago – London. They subsequently discontinued their Ottawa – Chicago route and they re-booked me on United to Chicago! (on a second attempt, the first agent said there was nothing they could do). I have never had a bad experience with an AA agent (rudeness or hanging up) and I deal with them a lot. I tend to use the London call centre which I think is located overseas somewhere (does anyone know where it is btw?). So the bottom line is this, if you point out the rule concerning aircraft type, they will also become aware of the rule concerning higher fares!

  28. And coming back from GRU last month, my partner and I learned at the airport that they had substituted a new 777-300ER with an older un-refurbished 777-200. We kicked up a very polite fuss. I was upgraded to First and my partner had to contend with the old business class (I wasn’t very popular but hey she didn’t give us a choice lol and I wasn’t going to say no). We were on separate tickets so after a complaint to AA, all he got was 2,500 AAdvantage miles compensation. As it’s never happened to me on AA, I wasn’t sure if this was standard. Has it happened to anyone else and if so, what compensation did you get?

  29. I had the same experience with a flight from Dubai to Milano. I had specifically booked to be on the A380, but two days before take off, the airline had changed the plane to an 777. I was traveling with the family of six and called up and asked to change to the earlier flight that was still now the A380. The agent told me the change was free of charge (although I had tickets that was non refundable or changeable) due to equipment change. I was relieved and very happy with that service of course as the A380 is superior in my view to the 777. So Emirates seem to follow the same rules as AA if equipment changes.

  30. Regarding UA, I have seen numerous disclaimers that say the ticket is subject to equipment changes at the discretion of the airline. T.S.
    I booked ANA 787 8 abreast and found out a couple days before the flight I was swapped to 9 abreast that didn’t even exist when I booked the ticket. I requested upgrade to premium economy with 8 abreast because that was what I purchased but was denied on several requests but three night before the flight I was magically upgraded.

  31. Thanks to you I was able to get a full refund for my non-refundable upgraded paid ticket (though it took an hour on the phone of polite persistence). After I hung up, I realized that she didn’t mention anything about my $350 upgrade fee being reimbursed. Do you know if that should be reimbursed, along with my ticket price and upgrade miles?

  32. If you want to be hanged up, call and ask an Expedia agent for anything outside of their script or present them with any problem. So that it will not seem too harsh, chances are they will disconnect you after a two hour hold. Hang up and call again at any time for a repeat performance.

  33. Called AA for my 778->772 ‘downgrade’ (AA183). A very nice agent tried to help but got shot down by her supervisor for the two options I suggested (biz->first, or change to DFW-PVG). Still she asked a manager to consider the situation and I am waiting for the response.
    Now I only regret that I had showed my two little ones some youtube clips saying how good the 788 flat seat will be..:(

  34. You should be able to cancel with no fees, and rebook (if there’s availability on the route you want), rather than make changes to your existing reservation. I was able to do that after pointing out the wording about equipment change.

  35. I just called AAafter discovering the AA183 change from 787 to old 777. I was going SEA-LAX-PVG, with the SEA-LAX leg on AS. They moved me to SEA-ORD-PVG no questions asked. And I was even able to convert the entire trip to business class on the same SWU. I’m EXP, so maybe that made it easier. But they were very helpful and no grief was given, no extra costs ever mentioned.

  36. So I was finally able to resolve my LAX-PVG debacle. First agent bumped me to supervisor who looked at moving me to the ORD or DFW route (DFW only had 2/28 seats blocked) and even called inventory but for whatever reason only asked about the ORD route (she said, ooops I forgot to check on Dallas but wasn’t willing to go back and ask). I decided the heck with this and we decided to Japan instead where space was easily available so I called to cancel the trip. First agent had no idea about the equipment change rule but my computer was hanging and I couldn’t pull up the policy fast enough so she had to (politely) disconnect. Called again, with policy at the ready, agent again insisted fees would be charged for miles redeposit. Requested supervisor and went back and forth with him until I was finally able to convince him to look at the policy himself. Walked him to the web page, showed him how to find the relevant section and 1hour and 15 minutes later I had the miles back for no fees. Both happy and shaking my head :).

  37. Frustrating experienced recently due to equipment swap on an AA marketed, BA operated LHR-DFW flight from a 777-300ER to an old 747 V1. I figured a quick call to American would get me switched to a similar flight departing an hour later on a 777-300ER. Not so much.

    First call to Platinum line:
    Very polite professional agent attempted to help but he was show down by 2 supervisors. They claimed they had no proof that the equipment was swapped. I told him I could forward my original email or they could reference FlightAware to see the equipment swap occurred around November. He put me back on hold but then came back and said they refused. He was polite and I felt bad for him and didn’t want to argue so I told him I would double check my facts and call back.

    Second call to Platinum line:
    Agent answers and states that she can’t do anything since the times of the flights didn’t change. I quoted the Contract “RESULT IN A SUBSTITUTION OF EQUIPMENT NOT ACCEPTABLE TO THE PASSENGER” and offered to provide the link. She says she can’t do anything and transfers me to a supervisor.

    Transfer to supervisor: (my first experience with a flat out rude American agent)
    The supervisor barely even lets me finish explaining and rudely and bluntly states that Equipment changes do not qualify and there is absolutely nothing I can do without paying change/cancellation fees. I again offer to provide a link with the policy stating the contrary but she doesn’t care and again states that she can’t do anything.

    Email to customer relations:
    At this point I was rather confused as to where I was misunderstanding the policy. I sent an email to customer relations explaining everything and got a quick, polite, professional reply. They apologized for the inconvenience and said they had placed an authorization on my record to waive the change fees and that I could call back to reservations and reference the authorization. Though they did not explicitly address the inconsistent information I had received.

    Call to reservations:
    Called reservations, referenced the authorization and was then told that even though the change fees were waived, I would be responsible for a several hundred dollar fare difference.

    Although I did not succeed in changing my flight, I still retain the right to cancel and can’t really argue at this point as the policy states that a fare difference may apply.

    The most frustrating part to me is the inconsistency in implementing the policy and lack of knowledge of AA employees. I would rather they have an explicit “equipment changes do not count as a schedule change” policy, rather than handling it inconsistently.

  38. Please note that the Contact of Carriage posted above is for international travel. There is no such similar protection for domestic travel.

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