United Airlines Negatively Alters Refund Policy

In the spirit of saving money, United Airlines has announced that it has altered its Schedule Change policy for customers seeking a refund. As of yesterday- 7th March, United passengers will only be eligible for a refund if their trip has been changed by more than 25 hours. The airline says this change works in the best interest of its customers. However many believe this is the airline making up for coronavirus losses. 

United Airlines 777
United will not allow its passengers to claim a refund unless their flight has been changed by more than 25 hours. Photo: United Airlines

Schedule Change Policy

Yesterday, United Airlines brought a new policy into effect. Many airlines have recently adopted changes, such as waiving fees, which is a helpful gesture for their customer base amid the coronavirus. With that in mind, a policy change from United was bound to hail from the land of customer benefits aplenty. However, this was not the case.

The US-based airline actually decided to change its policy in a way that now seems to punish customers for changes that are out of their control. According to a statement obtained by Bryan Sumers and shared in a tweet below, United’s Schedule Change Policy now states that “an involuntary refund will now be offered if a schedule change results in a change to the departure that is 25 hours or more.” The airline had previously doled out refunds to those passengers whose flight was affected by just two hours.

United Airlines’ schedule change page now states:

“When a schedule change happens, we try our best to provide you with options that minimize the disruption to your travel plans. In cases where the new flight options don’t work for you and one of the following scenarios applies, we may be able to offer you a refund:

  • The scheduled departure or arrival time changes by twenty-five hours or more.
  • The change causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it was originally.
  • If we are unable to accommodate you in the same cabin as purchased – refunded either the full price or the difference in fare.”
United taxiing
Your flight could leave on a completely different day and United will leave you out of pocket. Photo: Getty Images

Customers are unhappy with the change

The extent of United Airline’s policy change is huge. This is not just doubling, tripling or even quadrupling the delay needed before a refund can be claimed. United can reschedule flights for a completely different day and there seems to be nothing that passengers can do about it. If that time does not work for a passenger and they choose not to fly, their money is lost.

Understandably, many have responded in frustration to United changes. Various tweets on Twitter suggest that the airline is not considering its passengers enough.

This policy change is, of course, no mistake. United would have known that the policy negatively affects its passengers during a slightly more unstable travel climate. So, why did it decide to update its policy at this time?

United Airlines
Financial gain during the coronavirus outbreak is still important. Photo: United Airlines

Many believe that United Airlines is using the policy change to mitigate the financial damage from the coronavirus. By denying more refunds, the airline can safeguard profits and it’s evident that it might need to. There has been quite a decline in the number of passengers choosing to fly as a result of the coronavirus. The situation has brought on somewhat of a fiscal bleed. Undoubtedly, the updated policy will help in this regard but at what cost?

Will passengers protest United’s new policy by taking their business elsewhere? Perhaps, but the benefit might outweigh the risk.

With customer demand at a slump, there’s not much that airlines can do to stop hemorrhaging money. However, the escalation of the coronavirus has caused airlines to get creative. Some are trying to entice customers back on board with free flights and cheap seats which could in turn help keep their finances up. But what if those win-back tactics still don’t work?

Is United’s approach is different? Yes. However, it’s essentially just trying to do what others in the industry are doing: stay in business. Whether bad or good, United’s solution is a novel workaround to a unique situation. Can it be blamed?

Let us know what you make of United’s policy change in the comments.