Just a few days ago, United announced it was changing its refund policy for delayed flights. This is not unusual as many airlines are offering refunds or free changes to flights amid the coronavirus chaos. However, United’s policy actually made things harder for passengers. Now, it seems that the new policy received so much backlash, the airline has been forced to alter it. It will now apply the rules on a case-by-case basis.
The new policy
As many airlines change their refund policies and waive fees to help customers stranded or restricted by coronavirus, United also changed its policy. Earlier this week it announced it was changing its refund policy so that only passengers whose trip was delayed by over 25 hours would be eligible for a refund. Previously, the threshold was just two hours.
The reason for the change is that as demand drops, the airline has been forced to cut capacity. Flights which used to operate daily are no longer required. The new policy means that United can cancel a flight and rebook passengers on a flight a day later without having to pay any money.
Unfortunately, for any passengers who cannot make the new flight or no longer need to travel a day later, they will simply lose their money. The change is a massive one and unlike other airlines who are trying to help passengers, United is trying to help itself.
It is sort of understandable why United would want to make this change. The aviation industry has been massively impacted by the spread of coronavirus. And, so far, it shows no sign of recovering. United’s new policy would help the airline keep some cash while making the necessary changes to its schedule.
The downside is that it has annoyed many travelers who are being forced to wait over a day for a new flight with no compensation. In a difficult time for many airlines, United is trying to be financially smart. But the cost of this is alienating its customer base. One could argue that the damage to the airline’s reputation may not be worth the money saved.
Indeed, the reaction from the public when the news broke of the change was so strong that the airline has been forced to rethink. According to One Mile At A Time, the airline is now saying that they are again changing the policy for one which will allow them to “make case-by-case decisions to better serve customers during these uncertain times.”
While this sounds reasonable during uncertain times, it is very difficult to apply. Firstly, from a customer’s perspective, this could mean hours on the phone trying to explain a situation. It also means that passengers in similar situations may be treated differently by different United staff.
The other complication here is that most passengers are actually still being put in flights within two hours of their original booking. Sounds straightforward. But many of these flights are less direct and although departure is less than two hours late, arrival is often over the 25-hour deadline. It is unclear what the policy is in these cases.
Currently, United’s website currently does not have a clear message as to what its current policy is. Even if it did, it may change at any moment. While the new case-by-case policy is certainly an improvement on a 25-hour rule for all, it is definitely not the same level of customer care other airlines have opted to show. This is a difficult time for airlines and passengers alike and there is no doubt that tensions and problems will continue to arise.