A few days ago I wrote about United Airlines’ new refund policy for schedule changes. The airline has gotten tons of backlash for this, and it looks like United is backtracking on the policy… slightly.
Yes, United Airlines is in a really tough situation…
Let me first of all acknowledge that airlines are of course in a really tough situation. For example, yesterday we learned just how bad the situation at United is, as net domestic bookings are down 70% in recent days, and net bookings to Asia and Europe have fallen 100%.
United is expecting the drop in demand from this situation to be worse than it was after 9/11.
What made United’s new schedule change policy so bad
Taking the above into consideration, I can certainly understand why United is trying to conserve cash. However, there are some policies that cross the line.
With United Airlines’ new schedule change policy, the airline won’t let you refund your ticket unless the airline changes your flight schedule against your will by at least 25 hours. The previous policy was two hours.
It’s outrageous to think that the airline could cancel your flight in advance, rebook you on a flight 24 hours later, and you still wouldn’t be entitled to a refund.
The logic of the policy was pretty clear — United is slashing their schedule, and in the case of some long haul flights, they’re no longer offering daily service. So United wants to be able to rebook you the next day without you being able to get your money back.
United Airlines updates policy to be “case by case”
The latest update on this isn’t that United is fully backtracking, but rather they are in the process of updating their refund policy, “replacing it with a policy that will allow [them] to make case-by-case decisions to better serve [their] customers during these uncertain times.”
I guess that’s better than nothing, but the issue is that:
- Making a “case-by-case” decision requires calling, and hold times at airlines are generally really long now; they need systems in place with which people can self service online
- If you’re delayed for 24 hours, you should be getting a refund no questions asked, not on a “case-by-case” basis
In case anyone is wondering how United justified the 25 hour policy, a spokesperson told me:
- United’s goal is to rebook as many people as possible without interruption
- As of a couple of days ago, more than 90% of impacted customers are being put on other flights within two hours of their original booking; note that this was before huge upcoming schedule reductions
While that sounds good:
- Being put on a flight within two hours doesn’t mean you’ll get to your destination within two hours, since in many cases people are being rebooked on less direct routings
- For those nearly 10% of people who aren’t being put on other flights within two hours, I assume the delays can be significantly greater, and they don’t even have the option of a refund
Airlines are obviously in a tough situation, but United’s policy of not allowing changes when there’s a schedule change of up to 25 hours crosses the line.
I’m happy to see that United is slightly backtracking on this policy, in the sense that it seems they’ll be willing to offer refunds on a “case-by-case” basis. However, for an airline with tens of millions of customers, where phone hold times are consistently long at the moment, that doesn’t seem like a great solution.
It’s better than nothing, though…