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A couple of months ago I booked a flight from Managua (Nicaragua) via Houston, Texas to Munich (Germany) on United Airlines. The date of the flight is more than four weeks ahead.

Today I received an email notification that the first flight has been rescheduled. The flight from Managua arrives in Houston at 5.20 pm while the connecting flight from Houston to Munich is leaving at 2.30 pm, the same day. Therefore I will obviously miss the flight.

In the email it is written:

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Rest assured that your reservation remains valid, and if you do not wish to make additional changes, no action is needed based on this email

This seems ridiculous, as I have to make additional changes:

So my questions are:

  • Is this standard procedure? Just sending an email notification without call to action even though the flight plan became inapplicable?
  • What are my options here?
    • Can I step back from the flight?
    • If they offer me another itinerary which is inconvenient for me (e.g. more layovers) and I book a flight with another airline, will they refund the cost?

Update(04.06.2018):

I researched alternative flights and found one flight from Liberia (North of Costa Rica) which suited me as well. (I guess Nicaragua is right now not the best place to be anyway)

Then I called United Airlines about the issue. Their first offer was to take the plane in Houston one day later and providing an hotel voucher. When I proposed to fly from Liberia they first claimed the additional costs. But after some discussion the flight was changed free of charge.

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    Just to double check - are you certain they didn't also change your Houston-Munich flight? Could it be that it's at the same time on the next day? If you go to the airline's website and view your reservation, what do you see? – Nate Eldredge Jun 3 '18 at 18:07
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    The usual rule is that they will offer you a new itinerary to your final destination (so if they offered you something impossible, it's a mistake, and you should be able to call the airline and have it changed to something that is actually possible). If you don't like it, you can cancel for a full refund. – Nate Eldredge Jun 3 '18 at 18:08
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    Before you call, I would recommend doing a quick search of the flights offered by the airline. See if there's an itinerary that would be acceptable to you, so that you know whether there's an acceptable alternative on this airline, or whether you're aiming for a voucher/refund. – Michael Seifert Jun 3 '18 at 19:01
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    (Also, be conscious that some alternatives offered by United may involve you flying through a fourth country on your trip, for which you may need an extra visa depending on your citizenship. Searching for United flights from Managua to Munich yields several options that go through Toronto or London, for example.) – Michael Seifert Jun 3 '18 at 19:08
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    It is not clear from the question whether you booked one ticket Managua to Munich with a connection in Houston or two tickets Managua to Houston and Houston to Munich. If it is 1 ticket then United should make things right. If it is 2 tickets, then United is not obligated to make things right and you are probably going to be out some money. – emory Jun 3 '18 at 20:55
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It's likely a mistake. Call the airline and they should be able to correct it, and offer you a new itinerary that is actually possible.

Standard procedure when an airline changes their schedule is that they will update your whole itinerary, rebooking following flights as needed, to get you to your final destination. That didn't happen correctly in this case, which is probably an error on their part. It isn't normal.

(In some cases, e.g. if the airline is going to stop serving a city entirely, they might unilaterally cancel your reservation without offering you a new itinerary, and refund your money. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.)

If the new (possible) itinerary doesn't fit your travel plans, you should have the option to cancel the whole booking and get a full refund. Since this flight goes to the EU, it's possible you might be eligible for additional compensation as well; maybe someone more familiar with EU rules can discuss this.

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    EU compensation only applies if it as an EU registered airline, or it is DEPARTING the EU. I'm not sure if it the selling, or operating, airline that counts for a code-share. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_Compensation_Regulation_261/2004 As you're flying via the US, you might want to look up the US's compensation Rule 240 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_240 – CSM Jun 3 '18 at 18:35
  • Rule 240 has been obsolete for forty years now. – ajd Jun 3 '18 at 19:26
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    @ajd While Rule 240 hasn't existed in the literal sense in decades, it's still used as a shorthand. The key is not to say it as if they were "magic words". – choster Jun 3 '18 at 21:29
  • @usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ, the MCT (minimum connection time or minimum connecting time) actually varies from airport to airport, and in some cases, depends on the actual connection (e.g. domestic to domestic vs international to domestic, flights arriving/departing from the same terminal or not, etc.). Airlines have access to a database with all the details. – jcaron Jun 4 '18 at 9:10
  • Rephrased comment: be also aware that every airport dictates a minimum connection time (MCT) that is agreed with airlines (see @jcaron comment), so even if your flight departs later than your arrival, a connection time shorter than the MCT will imply that you will likely miss your connection. – usr-local-ΕΨΗΕΛΩΝ Jun 4 '18 at 12:15

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