Planned ahead but left behind 

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, but it threatened to turn into the headache of the year.

Following the travel industry’s advice, Michael Cottam’s clients booked their Tahitian honeymoon months in advance, only to find the itinerary changed due to flight cuts, resulting in a daylong layover.

"We’ve seen a bunch of these schedule changes lately. You lose a day or more in that fabulous place and nobody offers to make it up to you," said Cottam, co-founder of travel registry TheBigDay.com, which caters to honeymooners — many from the Bay Area.

With nearly every major carrier cutting back routes due to surging fuel costs, travelers who have already booked trips for fall and winter may find those flights no longer exist.

While airlines must book bumped passengers on another flight to their destination, it may not be the next flight — or even a flight the same day.

The prospect of losing seats is already causing worry among local travelers. Waiting at San Francisco International Airport, Stephanie Snyder said that airline officials should compensate travelers for their inconvenience.

"If I wanted to suddenly change my itinerary by a day or two, I’d have to pay," the San Francisco resident said. "If the airline does it, I should be compensated."

A travel-industry professional can sometimes negotiate some form of accommodation, such as an extra night in a hotel, but reimbursement from the airlines for accommodations or lost days is nonexistent, Cottam said.

"As a single consumer, you don’t have any leverage with the airlines," he said.

Delta, Northwest, US Airways and Continental all are cutting fall and winter capacity from 9 percent to 14 percent, according to airlines officials. In the latest example of financial woes affecting travelers, American Airlines officials announced this week that it will reduce domestic capacity by 11 percent to 12 percent and systemwide capacity by 8 percent. The carrier will also lay off nearly 6,000 workers.

Tim Smith, a spokesman for the airline, said American announced its schedule changes for September and October in May and June.

Smith said that while there are a number of flights cut in September through November, rescheduling passengers is not uncommon and airline reservations employees begin looking for the least-disruptive itinerary as soon as they learn of a change.

"In the rare case where we cannot reaccommodate a customer to their satisfaction, we offer a full refund," Smith said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com 

Tips for travelers

With airlines cutting back on flights, travelers who find themselves with a canceled flight should know their rights and options before they re-book.

1. Consider a travel agent. Individuals have little leverage, but a travel agent may have the pull to be able to secure you a seat on a crowded next flight.

2. Consult your "contract of carriage." The contract, which can be found at each airline's Web site, lists your rights. Some airlines promise to book booted passengers on competing carriers if service to their destination is eliminated completely.

3. Ask for a refund if necessary, even if your ticket was nonrefundable.

4. Do your own research. If travelers aren’t using travel agents, they can check on flight alternatives before they book.

Source: OAG Worldwide

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