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From The Airfarewatchdog Mailbag: Only An Airline Could Get Away With This

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Q: On July 26, 2011, I purchased an airline ticket from US Airways. They sold me a "code share" ticket on United Airlines for travel on December 25, 2011 (Des Moines to Eugene, Ore. with a connection in Denver), returning on December 31, 2011.

On Sunday November 13, 2011, I logged into see what my arrival time would be in Eugene so I could book a rental car. Instead of a confirmed reservation I had found that my Des Moines to Denver and Denver to Des Moines legs had been cancelled. US Airways didn't notify me of this. After over 3 hours on the phone with US Airways and United I was able to get to rebook flights, but was forced to change my return date to January 2, 2012.

I have requested some kind of compensation for my additional vacation days lost, hotel, food and rental car expenses. I was told take this or get a refund of my ticket and rebook at my expense at a much higher fare on another airline with two changes of plane. I purchased this ticket in good faith of getting to my destination and returning without massive layovers, only one change of planes and for the dates I wanted to fly.

US Airways told me that to change my flight schedule I would have to pay for a fare difference plus a $150 change fee. Is there anything I can do to recover some of my expenses for the extra days I will have to spend at my destination?

A: In a word, no.

Every week, I receive complaints about airlines changing their schedules far in advance of travel (I'm not talking here about last minute cancellations), causing hardship and considerable extra expense for their customers. It's entirely unfair, and really, what other industry could get away with this? It's one reason I've called for 12 new consumer protections in the airline industry.

Could a retailer substitute a lesser quality item than the one you originally bought at the last minute and expect you to pay more plus a "change fee" to get the item you originally ordered? Could a restaurant substitute a hamburger for the rib eye you originally purchased? Or how about a rock concert? Sure, concert dates are cancelled, but would the promoter change your date to another day and city without telling you? And substitute the some B-list act for the Rolling Stones? But really, what the airlines are doing is even worse than these examples.

And yet airlines get away with these shenanigans all the time. And what really annoys me is that looking at schedules between Eugene and Des Moines on your dates of travel, I see that both US Airways/United still have seats on your original dates, so I cannot understand why they changed your reservation, unless it was to sell your seat at a higher fare (current fares are well over $500 round-trip including tax for your itinerary).

I would call US Airways again and insist that they rebook you on your original flights and keep calling until they do so. I would also lodge a complaint with the US DOT.