Passengers surprised by reservation date changes, airline cites pandemic demand

ATLANTA — Velma Maloney and Nancy O’Neal were one half of an international girls’ trip booked through Delta Airlines in January. The group was scheduled to take off from Atlanta to St. Maarten during Memorial Day week -- a first trip for most of the Georgia women during the pandemic.

Less than two weeks ago, their plans abruptly changed.

“Never had the date change,” Maloney said, referring to flight reservations. “Like I’ve had the time change maybe an hour or two hours, but I’ve never had where they’ve changed a whole date.”

The group received an email from the airline, noting their flight return date had been extended by a day.

The same happened this week with another metro Atlanta couple who was set to go to the Bahamas in June. They were notified that the trip dates changed by two days on the front end, and one day on the return flight end.

The same happened to their neighbor, who was scheduled for a Turks and Caicos trip this summer.

Maloney’s group says they spent hours on the phone before reaching Delta agents who offered flight vouchers and eventual refunds since the passengers could not change work schedules to deal with flight date alterations.

Other barriers caused them to cancel, including existing available flights that would cause them to further extend the trip, and the inability to book more hotel accommodations.

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“We were trying to figure out what to do,” Maloney said. “We were going to check with the hotel to figure out if they could extend it, but first we had to check with work to see if we could extend our time, which was a no-go, so we ended up having to cancel the trip altogether.”

“I have dogs to board and so that would have cost extra,” O’Neal added. “And having to book the room for an extra night, or I don’t know-sleep on the streets in St. Maarten’s?”

But the group said they never got an explanation for what was behind the date changes.

In a statement Monday, Delta noted increased demand and recent schedule changes to the Channel 2 viewers’ destinations but denied any staffing shortages.

The latter was a part of what led the airline to cancel 100 flights Sunday, and temporarily lift their middle seat ban policy during Easter holiday travel.

“These occurred due to shifting demand dynamics as we continue to navigate through the pandemic,” a statement read. “Though uncommon, customers are always notified about them. Sorry to here our first solution for them didn’t work out and they chose a refund; customers also have the option of keeping their value as an e-credit for future booking at another date. "

“We always do proactively contact customers when a schedule change is made to previously booked travel,” Delta added, saying their staffing levels were not at play. “Customers can make adjustments to their travel on the Fly Delta app and at delta.com, too.”

Shelby Behret, a Woodstock-based travel agent with Cruise Planners, was not surprised to hear about the customers’ experiences and said it was not uncommon.

“No schedule’s guaranteed. Period. End of story. No matter what you book,” Behret said.

Behret said she and other travel agents have noticed an increase in flight schedule changes, saying it’s difficult to get through to agents working any airline as travel demand increases and the airlines work with pandemic-level staffing.

She notes the passenger bill of rights guarantees an airline’s attempt to reschedule bookings at no cost to the customer, but it doesn’t guarantee trip dates won’t change. Delta, she said, is among the best airlines to deal with recent changes.

“They will do their very best to get you to your destination as soon as possible,” Behret said. “The only time where the passenger bill of rights does not come in is when it’s (circumstances) like an act of God. So (for example) a volcano erupts in Iceland or Texas freezes over again.”

For that reason, Behret emphasized travel insurance. She also said it doesn’t hurt to request hotel accommodations, giving it a try even if the flights are altered ahead of your airport arrival.

Behret adds international trips during the COVID pandemic may be especially prone to changes because of the way the pandemic may impact regulations from one country to the next.

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