Airlines worldwide are gearing up for a busy summer travel season, with many carriers expected to fly more than they did in 2022. In its fourth quarter earnings call in January, American Airlines executives said the airline will offer between 5 percent and 8 percent more seats than last year.
But in a move last week that may have surprised even more seasoned travelers, the Dallas-based carrier cut nearly 50,000 summer flights across its network, with Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport seeing the largest cuts. American is also trimming flights from Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as from Philadelphia and Phoenix. If travel is expected to be busy—and the original schedule reflects that—why would American make such a change?
While there continues to be strong demand for air travel, airlines are still facing challenges regarding pilot shortages and aircraft delivery delays. American, along with the other major U.S. airlines, publishes a placeholder schedule nearly a year in advance when tickets go on sale and then adjusts that schedule if needed.
“We are now publishing our final schedule approximately 100 days in advance,” an airline spokesperson told AFAR. “These adjustments are in line with our approach to our network and schedule planning throughout the year.”
Even though this practice at American—and across the industry—is common, it’s no consolation to those who book travel early. Those passengers may experience unwelcome flight and time changes. The practice of airline schedule adjustments underscores why it’s critical that travelers actively monitor their reservations and know their rights as fliers when things don’t go their way.
How to prepare for airline network adjustments
Keep track of your reservations
It’s important for travelers to monitor their flight bookings, especially as travel approaches. While airlines may reach out to passengers about schedule changes, there is no guarantee that the airline will contact you about any adjustments or that you will see the notifications. So make sure to double- (and triple-) check.
Ask for better routing or a refund
Travelers whose flights may have changed as a result of airline schedule adjustments should automatically receive alternate options that get them to their destination. But if a change doesn’t meet your needs, you can either ask for a preferred routing or for a full refund—even if booked in a restrictive Basic Economy fare. On September 1, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) launched a new Aviation Consumer Protection website to help travelers track down what kind of refunds or compensation their airline should provide when there is a cancellation or delay.
Airlines aren’t required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled due to problems deemed beyond the company’s control, like bad weather. They also aren’t required to provide a refund when the passenger initiates the cancellation or flight change. But a refund is required by U.S. law when the airline cancels, delays, or alters a flight, or passengers are involuntarily bumped from a flight that is oversold or due to issues originating from the airline, such as operational or staffing problems.
Book with a credit card that offers travel insurance
Schedule changes are one of the many ways that travel plans can be disrupted even if you have meticulously mapped every little detail of your journey. For that reason, it’s a good idea to protect your trip, and an easy way to do so is to book flights using a credit card that offers travel insurance. This can ensure that you get at least some recompense should things go awry.