NOTE: This example is with Alaska Airlines. This story is applicable to reservations with most airlines.
We are in uncharted territory where flight cancellations, routings and time changes are the new reality. I was checking flights for my wife and I from Portland (PDX) to Denver (DEN) for next month. Let me show you why I’m glad that I checked. Before we get started, I had received no email from Alaska Airlines regarding flight changes. I guess that the notification is “still in the (e)mail”.
All Of Our Flights Have Changed
Our trip to Denver was in paid first class. While I was checking my itineraries for all of my flights, the trip to Denver immediately caught my eye. All of my flights have changed and I am now arriving in Denver at 9:15 pm instead of 7:53 pm. I guess that I should feel fortunate that the flight changes were for the same day. Upon further observation, my first flight (now AS 2819) from PDX to SEA was on a Q400 aircraft which is a turbo-prop. There are no first class seats on the Q400 and Alaska didn’t indicate on my itinerary that they would be refunding the difference between first class and economy.
My Wife Now Has A Different Itinerary Than I Do
This is partially my fault so I will accept partial blame. My wife and I are on different Passenger Record Locators (PRL) because her employer paid for her ticket and I paid for mine.
I am now on flight AS 2819 for the first leg and Shelly is on AS 1204. Her flight departs 90 minutes before my flight does. Why am I accepting partial blame for this? When I booked these flights, I forgot to call Alaska Airlines and have them link the two reservations together.
I called Alaska Airlines to inquire about being on separate flights and why I got bumped to economy when I paid for first class. I told the agent that I wanted first class on AS 1204 with my wife who is sitting in seat 2D. She told me that first class on that flight was full. It was full? No way, I am looking at the seat map.
The agent tells me that due to “social distancing”, they are only booking first class to 50% of capacity. I said no problem, there are 16 first class seats and only seven are taken. She said “Sir, you don’t understand”. I said that I understand, I can read a seat map. She says that there is a first class passenger without a seat assignment. I will talk more about the new rules for flights but first it is time to go to plan “C”. It also should be noted that in economy, Alaska Airlines are blocking out the middle seat from purchase.
I go back to the search screen and I find a different schedule that puts us on the same flights and now gets us into Denver at 4:10 pm. Now we’ve got something that is agreeable to everyone.
BOOKING TIP: IF THE AIRLINE CANCELS YOUR FLIGHT OR THE SCHEDULE CHANGE IS AT LEAST 60 MINUTES DIFFERENT, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO CHOOSE THE FLIGHT(S) THAT YOU WANT WITHOUT PAYING A CHANGE FEE OR CHANGE IN AIRFARE. Remember, the change has to be involuntary to you to take advantage of this.
Your Nonstop Flight Is No Longer Nonstop
With flight cancellations running in the 90% range, your nonstop flight might now be a one-stop flight. Part of the agreement of taking the CARES Act stimulus money is that airlines have to maintain service to the fullest extent that is reasonable and practical. Alaska Airlines is in a unique situation where many of there cities in the midwest and east only have one flight per day. I will give Alaska Airlines credit for coming up with a creative solution – tag flights. Here is a list of new routings that use tag flights:
- Seattle (SEA) to Dallas (DFW) then to Houston (IAH),
- Seattle (SEA) to Raleigh-Durham (RDU) then to Charleston (CHS),
- Seattle (SEA) to Minneapolis (MSP) then to Columbus, OH (CMH),
- Seattle (SEA) to Pittsburgh (PIT) then to Baltimore, MD (BWI) and
- Seattle (SEA) to San Luis Obispo, CA (SBP) and then to Santa Barbara, CA (SBA).
It’s A New World Out There And The Rule Book Has Changed
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the airlines’ rule book for booking. The changes not only affect ticketing but they also affect ground and service in the air. Here are some of the major changes at Alaska Airlines:
If you are an Alaska Lounge member, all lounge locations are closed with the exception of the Alaska Lounge in concourse “D” at Seattle (SEA).
I don’t know when Alaska Airlines was going to notify me of the changes to these itineraries but it shows that you need to be proactive and check your flights on a regular basis. Keep in mind that If your flight(s) is/are cancelled, you are not alone. You want to be first to rebook and not last to rebook your flight(s). Remember that you may be competing with 100 other people for the same resources.
Check your itinerary for:
- Date and time changes. Remember that you may be rebooked on a different day,
- If you are flying with a companion on a different confirmation code (PRL), you may get separated during the rebooking process. Remember to link your reservations together,
- Your class of service may have been downgraded and
- Your nonstop flight is no longer a nonstop flight.
If the airline has cancelled your flight or the flight departure changes is greater than 60 minutes, you should be able to change to a schedule that makes sense for you without paying a change fee or change in pricing.