What to do if your 787 flight is canceled

The 787 problems are no doubt throwing off a lot of peoples’ travel plans, as there’s no date in sight for when the 787s will be flying again. While airlines are doing their best to substitute other aircraft onto 787 routes, that’s not always possible, and it’s leading to cancellations. Which brings me to reader Michael‘s question:

I’m one of many who is ticketed for NH 787 award travel (SEA-NRT) and has had the flight cancelled. So, I’m pretty sure I should be rerouted on NH metal TPAC, but lots of FTers are reporting heavy resistance from FF programs in accommodating the changes — including a report of Aeroplan only reaccommodating in award class economy.

In my case, I’m booked on US Airways miles and my friend is booked on Aeroplan miles.

Could you maybe write a blog post on what to do in the case of award flight cancellations — what to say when calling in, calling the award carrier or the operating carrier, that sort of thing — especially given that there’s basically zero TPAC J availability for my dates of travel? I think many would find it helpful — I certainly would! Such a post would be much appreciated. Thanks!

To start, there are a few general award travel guidelines to keep in mind:

  • All changes to award tickets need to be made with the airline that issued your ticket (meaning the airline with which you redeemed your miles)
  • Airlines don’t have the ability to open up award space on other airlines
  • Airlines do have the ability to open up award space on their own flights, but if another airline canceled your flight they’re under no obligation to do so, though they usually do as a courtesy

So unfortunately the rules aren’t “crystal clear” here. Let’s take US Airways, for example. If you redeemed your US Airways miles for travel on ANA and ANA cancels a flight, US Airways doesn’t have the ability to accommodate you on their own flights, given that they don’t even fly to Asia. Their reaction would be to try and find you award space on one of their partner airlines, be it in coach or business class, since most agents think that’s all they can do.

But what you need — and I’ve written about them before in another context — is an alliance liaison. A general reservations agent will almost never proactively suggest this and often doesn’t even know they exist. But basically each alliance/airline partnership has an agent that liaises between airlines when serious schedule changes or cancellations occur that can’t reasonably be fixed without intervention.

Basically they’re the agents that have the ability to apply logic to a situation — ANA canceled your flight, there’s no award space to your destination in the same cabin otherwise, so it should be on ANA to fix the problem for you. The issue, as stated above, is that you can’t work directly with ANA since they didn’t issue your ticket.

The best way to get a liaison is typically to ask to be transferred to a supervisor with the airline with which you issued the ticket and explain the situation. The keys are that another airline cancelled your flight and that there are no suitable alternatives. Ask specifically if the case could be forward to a Star Alliance liaison. A supervisor should know what this is. This isn’t an instant process. They have to put in the request, the liaison reviews it and talks to the airline operating the flight, and hopefully they “sell” the award space for the flight you’d like into the itinerary. It can take a few days, but is the only way something like this can be fixed.

If you get an agent or supervisor that doesn’t know what a liaison is, hang up and call again.

Hopefully that answers your question, and good luck!

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. I thought I’d share my experience as I was in the same situation – US Air award redemption in business class with a SEA-NRT ANA leg. I went back and forth *repeatedly* with US and NH, including supervisors on both ends. I finally got a US Air supervisor to get an alliance liaison involved. Even then NH would not budge at all. The best they would do is give me an economy seat. Basically I spent about ten hours of my own time (usually while on hold) playing around with Aeroplan’s website until eventually I found an alternate routing on Asiana a few days earlier in coach.

    Even then, US Air wanted to charge me a change fee until the representative sensed that pushing that line of thought would be a very bad idea after I pointed out that their airline was incapable of solving my problems and I had to come up with an acceptable alternate routing because no one at US Air seemed to care enough to bother.

    In other words, do your own research because if you are relying on the booking airline to solve it for you then you’re without recourse if they don’t.

  2. Sorry, a few days earlier in business, not coach (should proofread before submitting). On the bright side, I’m using those extra days in Japan to stay at the HR Kyoto, so I can’t be too upset šŸ˜€

  3. Exact same problem here, but I was originating out of San Jose. I have had zero luck with agents at either NH or US Air. I was lucky to find J class fares in and out of KIX on almost my exact same travel dates. Not ideal, but at least I didn’t have to cancel the trip entirely! Seems like everyone is just washing their hands of this mess and pointing the finger at Boeing – who does in fact deserve all of the blame in this fiasco.

  4. I think you should have a case to/from SJC, since that is a cancelled route, but NRT-SEA is still running the 777, so you would still have a C seat and with that 777, I believe is the new C config…but I may be wrong on that. So why not stick with the originally routing if they replaced the 787 with a 777 and gauranteed C seat?

  5. @ Brady — While ANA has been substituting in 777s on their Seattle service, they’re actually canceling the flight for much of the immediate future.

  6. @ Lucky — thank you for that update…I had not read that yet. Then I would re-neg my last statement and say fight for the best C product substitute you can get then!! šŸ™‚ You have any experience on the OZ 747 C? I have that routing on a trip in a couple of weeks ICN-LAX…

  7. I don’t understand how they’re not running afoul of DOT regs. They sold you a seat from A to B in business class. They need to provide it, n’est-ce pas?

  8. For what it’s worth, in the past I’ve encountered particular resistance from Aeroplan with respect to opening up seats on Air Canada when another Star Alliance carrier has canceled an award flight. After AC spun Aeroplan off a few years ago into a separate company, Aeroplan now claims “we’re separate from Air Canada and we can’t make them open up seats,” and while I suppose it’s technically true, it’s sort of a bogus excuse — AC *should* ultimately take responsibility for Aeroplan bookings gone wrong, instead of no one.

  9. @ Brady — Asiana’s business class on the 747 is a pretty old product. Their business class on the reconfigured 777s is MUCH better. But hey, business class is business class, and is better than coach!

  10. @ Justin — You’d think so, but to me it’s not entirely clear whether the DOT regulations apply to a) award tickets and apply to b) honoring the award class you’re booked on, so in theory you could be downgraded.

  11. @ palefire — Agreed, dealing with Aeroplan can be sticky at times. They are an independent program so I do believe to some extent they have less of an ability to open up award space on Air Canada, though they should still take responsibility for the situations like that.

  12. Agree with Justin’s post, don’t they have some obligation here? Certainly I think the EU carriers do under the extra regs here!

  13. Especially if you book via Aeroplan, you’ve paid fuel surcharges, so you’ve actually paid substantial cash and paid miles (which I don’t think anyone could argue don’t hold value). As far as I’m concerned, you’ve paid and I’d love to hear an airline argue otherwise.

    Does the fact that Aeroplan isn’t actually an airline shield them in some way from DOT regs?

    Hopefully somebody tests this, as I think this is a pretty customer-friendly test case. Could potentially establish the precedent that award tickets are covered.

  14. I booked three Mileage Plus award business class flights to Europe this summer with LOT on a 787. Exchange offered was same cabin type on a 767-300ER which I do not consider to be an even value. It seems LOT does not understand or does not want to understand the fact that flat seats space is not the same as old bulky recliners. Hello LOT! I would live to experience your world known hospitality on board. You know who I am, contact me to resolve this before I cancel all flights and rebook on LH or UA.

  15. @ Simon — While it’s extremely frustrating and I face the same situation last month, there really isn’t anything they can do. The 787s are the only aircraft with the new product, and they’re grounded for reasons outside of LOT’s control. Airlines don’t guarantee equipment type, so in this case keeping you on the 767 after an equipment swap is the best they can do, as frustrating as it might be.

  16. Yep, but with total of four LOT reservations this summer/fall I simply asked LOT to upgrade my last trip from economy to business class for one of four trips in exchange for lost value on three business class flights downgraded from 787 to 767 – reasonable request, isn’t it?

  17. I had an award flight with ANA that was SEA>NRT in C on the 787. I rebooked with UA on the 777 in F a day or two before the 787’s were officially grounded. UA didn’t charge me for the change for the flight that’s in early November (I don’t have status with UA).

    I’ve heard the F seats on the 777 with UA were supposed to be swapped with new seats, but now with the 787 problems, that might delay the new seats being installed because they need the 777’s in service until the 787’s are back in service. I’m thinking of going through FRA/ZRH instead, but haven’t pulled the trigger yet šŸ™

  18. What can we expect if this happens to a complicated award (e.g. OJ, multiple 23 hr layovers, etc.)? I imagine there’d be some sort of domino effect with multiple carriers involved, not to mention hotel reservations, etc.

  19. @ DBest — That gets a lot more complicated and I’d expect them to do less. They’d probably help you get to the final destination, but that’s all I’d expect.

  20. First post I’ve seen that is absolutely and completely dead wrong.

    Once a ticket is issued the COC’s do not differentiate between whether the ticket was paid for with cash or miles. Now it is possible that some airline has made such a change and I haven’t seen it unless the COCs specifically make such a differentiation it does not exist.

    Therefore whatever the COCs say applies equally to ticket paid for with cold hard cash or with miles.

    Now you won’t find many airlines that will willingly tell you that. You will find a number of airlines that will tell you the opposite but that is what the contract you have with the airline says. If they fail to abide by this they will lose in court.

    What this means is that if a flight is cancelled, or there is a schedule change or all the other things can happen you have to be treated the same.

    For example I had 4 seats SFO-CDG-EVN on AF. AF changed the non daily leg into EVN and so we misconnected. No problem. DL gets AF on the line, there are seats (any seat will do) on the day we need and they rebook us. This is NOT an accommodation. Once you have a confirmed ticket or reservation (either not both) then it is the airlines responsibility to get you to your destination according to the COCs.

    Most COCs have very specific language about exactly what their obligations are and some have been watered down over the years but every one I’ve seen obligates them to give you a seat if there is one in your class of service (ie cabin) regardless of fare category.

    That airlines are not required to do this is simply incorrect and the result of the fact that some (UA is the worst) steadfast refuse to do so. Time after time when taken to court UA loses, pays up and continues with the practice. My take is that when even FF experts who write blogs don’t know the rules then pretty much no one does so its far cheaper to just refuse to honor their contract and pay up once in a while to the very few travelers who don’t know what the agreement they have with the airline really says.

    You have a ticket. Just like when you buy the cheapest coach when there is a problem they don’t insist that the same fare bucket is available or you can’t go they cannot do so when your flight was paid for with miles. Some airlines do so and do so as a matter or routine when challenged they often back down and when they don’t they lose in court.

    Just read the COCs. They are your agreement with the airline. Understand them and you will know exactly where you stand.

  21. Justin got it right. If you are holding a ticket from A to B in business class the airline legally must transport you from A to B in business class (not counting some very narrow exceptions).

    They don’t necessarily have to give you the “best’ routing unless the COCs say that (some do) but “reasonable” would be required. Things get a murky there but generally the test would be were seats available on their own aircraft or on aircraft with which they have protection agreements. Treating an award ticket less well than a paid ticket probably would give you a basis for a lawsuit all other things being equal but that might be difficult to prove. So for example in a situation like irregular operations an airline can give out the best routing to those with status or higher fares first and if that fills the plane you might go a less ideal routing. But if they deny you the right to go on a plane with seats that would be a problem.

    Generally the rule is if the airlines can’t transport you as you are booked and confirmed they need to get you there in the same class of service by some sort of other reasonable routing. That would not means there need to be award seats and they could not insist you take a substantially inferior routing on UA if there were paid space on LH but no award space.

    In fact it is LH not UA who is on the hook here and that is where things get complicated. The carrier that issued the ticket is responsible part of the work but it is the carrier that is transporting you that is ultimately responsible for doing so. So in the case where you cash in UA or US miles for travel on LH it is up to LH to find you a routing that complies with their COCs. But getting them to do so without UA cooperation can get quite tricky.

    Generally you have two options. If the airline is completely slimy, call their head office either in the US or overseas until you finds someone with a brain. Explain the problem. They will call the airline that issued the tickets and tell them they have opened space. Problem solved.

    This works extremely well with EU airlines because EU law specifically require this so you have another layer on top of contract law with which to enforce the obligation.

    Option two works well if you have the time. Sent a letter to both airlines, wait the required time if any and then sue both in small claims court. A couple of days before the trial you will get a call from the airlines lawyers and the problem will be fixed. The lawyers know the what their agreement with you requires and know that they will lose if they don’t abide by them. The best strategy is to buy a B or F ticket if you can afford the temporary outlay to be assured there is a seat on the routing you want.

    It really is very sad that so many of the US based airlines pull this kind of stuff. If they don’t like being obligated to treat tickets issued against miles the same as those against cash they could just change their COCs to say that. But they don’t and then they go right ahead and violate their agreement with you figuring they can get away with it. The EU had enough of this behavior and clamped down with the result that the European carriers now generally live up to their obligations. Problem fixed.

    If nothing else that is another very good reason to cash your awards in for travel on EU based carriers. When booking a year out stuff happens. Unless you are Ok being left SOL once in a while any traveling with a ticket that came from miles should not only think about which carrier he is traveling with and how responsible they are but know what is required to enforce what they and the airline have agreed upon as a condition of doing business together.

    Otherwise once in a while you are going to get taken advantage of.

  22. Before everyone with a 787 flight in the next year starts to panic, please keep in mind that the 787s will be back flying soon. This is a problem with BATTERIES, not with some fundamental flaw of the design. Yes, it’s not finished yet, but Boeing does have a proposed fix that is pending FAA approval. Once approved, there will be a short flight testing period (I know guys who work at Boeing and will be on those flights). I’d guess the planes will probably go back into service in May, possibly June but I’d be very surprised if any later.

    Me, I have my first trip on a 787 booked in October (NRT-SEA in C) and I’m looking forward to it.

    @Steve (above) – thanks for the clarification.

  23. Bubba, the batteries are part of a complicated electrical system, which includes the charging system, and the batteries are designed to always be receiving and supplying power – perhaps doing some level of power conditioning.

    It’s disconcerting that no root cause has yet been identified that caused the battery fires. While thermal separation of the cells is wise, and part of Boeing’s fix, and improved containment is also wise, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem which has never been definitively determined.

    It’s impossible to know whether the FAA will approve resumption of passenger flights with this fix.

  24. I’ve experienced the situation where on an award ticket the operating carrier (SQ in my case) cancelled by booked flight and didn’t give me a suitable substitute flight. Attempting to go through the airline who originally ticketed my flight, who only had access to a very limited inventory, was frustrating beyond belief. It’s my opinion that when an operating carrier cancels or changes a flight, that they need to open up revenue inventory to reaccommodate confirmed passengers, even if it is on an award. I ended up having to use social media to get SQ’s attention.

  25. I think the failure to deal with this is deliberate. The airlines know they can get away with it.

    Witness what is going on here. One of the most read FF blogs and he won’t touch the issue.

    One has to ask, why?

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