With airlines cancelling large numbers of flights, you can end up in a forced layover situation if you have one or more connecting flights. If you have connecting flights, you need to be proactive and deal with your airline sooner than later. The sooner you address this problem, the more options you will have.
What Is A Forced Layover?
A forced layover is a flight itinerary that can not be completed on the same day that will need a hotel stay at a connecting airport. This is usually the result of your airline cancelling a connection flight that prevents same day continuation of your flight itinerary. As airlines reduce flight schedules, forced layovers will become more and more common. When airlines cancel flights, their reservation computers will attempt to reroute you as practically as possible. The problem is that the new flight schedule they come up with may not work for you. In the example shown above, do you see the problem with my new schedule? Alaska has me departing Seattle for Portland 22 minutes before my flight from Charleston lands at Seattle. Alaska Airlines only sends out change emails to customers whose flight changes are within 90 days. I totally disagree with this policy. If an airline changes my flight schedule, they need to send me a change email as soon as the change occurs. After all, it doesn’t cost the airline anything to send an email.
My home airport is Portland, OR (PDX) and I frequently connect on Alaska Airlines through Seattle, WA (SEA). Seattle is Alaska’s largest airport and you can get just about anywhere in their route system from Seattle. In this example, Alaska Airlines only flies to Charleston, SC from Seattle so I have to connect from Portland. Normally, this is an easy, same-day itinerary because I could catch the 5:30 am departure from PDX and the 10:00 pm departure from SEA on the return. The previous Portland Shuttle schedule was reliable and could handle any connection to and from Seattle. That was before massive airline schedule cuts. Here is what the Alaska Airlines Portland shuttle looks like today with early and late departures eliminated:
Other Cancellation Issues
When I reviewed all of my flight reservations, I found other problems with how Alaska Airlines rerouted me. I am on a paid first class ticket and found a connecting flight now on a Q400 turboprop with all-economy seating. On a flight departing Orlando (MCO) on AS 19 at 6:05 pm, the new schedule has me leaving at 8:05 am on AS 9 to make a connecting flight from Seattle. The problem with this new schedule is that I have an event to attend that morning and I can’t leave at 8:05 am.
The two examples show either a class of service downgrade or a schedule that is unacceptable for my travel plans.
Here’s How I Handled These Problems
The first thing to understand is that there is a huge difference between a voluntary change in schedule and a forced change in schedule. Schedule changes whether they are quarterly schedule changes or changes due to the current aviation downturn are on the airline, not you. Therefore, you as a passenger have more leverage to get what you want (or need) at no extra cost to you.
In the example of Charleston to Seattle to Portland, it is obvious to anyone that my connecting flight can’t take off 22 minutes before my originating flight lands. When I called Alaska Airlines to have them explain how they expect to pull this off, they realized that the reservation computer has some limitations. The cancellation of my original connecting flight was cancelled by the airline and not by me. I have options and I used those options to amend my schedule. First, I had Alaska put me on a connecting flight departing the next morning, here is my new schedule:
Second, since this is a forced layoff, Alaska Airlines is going to pay for my hotel stay at SEA for the night of September 7, 2020. Here is what you need to do for a hotel stay. When you are on the phone with the airline and you need a hotel stay, you will have to get the customer service agent to approve the hotel stay. When they tell you that your hotel stay is approved, may sure that they note that approval in your passenger record. I was given a choice of receiving a hotel voucher for a hotel of their choosing or reimbursement for a hotel of my choosing. I am a diamond with Hilton Honors so I will go for the reimbursement from Alaska Airlines.
For class or service downgrades and unacceptable flight schedules, I had the airline change flights to address these issues even if it now put me in a forced layover situation.
Don’t wait for the airline to send you an email that you have a schedule change. I check my reservations every three days and that is how I found all of my schedule changes. Remember that flight changes are not solely due to the current aviation downturn. All airlines have schedule changes that take place every quarter. If you book a flight(s) well in advance, you could have multiple quarterly schedule changes to deal with.
If you are affected by a schedule change that is problematic for you, call the airline right away. Remember that other people are in the same situation and the sooner you address your situation with the airline, the more options that you will have. This is especially true since airlines are reducing the seating capacity to comply with physical distancing.
Forced layovers may be more common as airlines adjust their schedules to deal with the reservation dropoff. Check your reservations on a regular basis and don’t rely on the airline to contact you. Be proactive and deal with these problems early to have a greater choice of options. Other people will be impacted as well so acting sooner will give you more choices. If you are in a forced layover situation, insist that the airline approve your hotel expense in advance and have them note that approval in your passenger record.
Stay well, stay distant, wash your hands frequently and we will all get through this together.