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A friend and I are supposed to fly from Tokyo to Copenhagen on the 2nd of May with a layover in Beijing of a few hours. Both flights are with Air China. However, we’ve just been notified that the flight from Beijing to Copenhagen has been changed to a similar flight departing two days later.

My question is: Is this normal? What are our rights? Can we expect to get an earlier departure if we complain?

update: Thanks for the help! In particular, the concrete advice from @Hilmar made me feel well prepared when calling Air China. They insisted that we would still have to have some sort of layover in Beijing, so in the end they offered a layover in Beijing before connecting to Frankfurt and then finally flying to Copenhagen. Adding another layover is not ideal, but it was the only solution they offered, when we insisted that we had to be home on May the second.

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    Did you buy this as a single ticket? If yes, you should call/visit the airline and ask for assistance. Either reschedule the Tokyo-Beijing flight, or get them to book a hotel room for you. If it's 2 separate tickets, you're probably SOL. Also, does your citizenship allow for TWOV or visa-free entry?
    – dda
    Commented Apr 15 at 6:52
  • Yes, this was bought as a single ticket. I will contact the airline then. Otherwise, my citizenship does allow for a visa-free entry
    – GraftCraft
    Commented Apr 15 at 8:53
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    Note that May 2 is right in the middle of Labor day golden week in China. This is one of the busiest travel periods all year there. I would definitely try to avoid a layover in China during this period if possible.
    – jkej
    Commented Apr 16 at 12:37

2 Answers 2

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As @dda’s comment mentions, if you bought this as a single ticket you should contact the airline and ask for assistance. Either reschedule the Tokyo-Beijing flight, or get them to book a hotel room for you (assuming your citizenship allows for TWOV or visa-free entry). If it's two separate tickets, you're probably out of luck; if you want to accept the reschedule, you’ll need to get the Tokyo>Beijing leg changed yourself. It’s worth checking your travel insurance to see if you are covered for any losses.

From Air China’s Terms & Conditions

9.1.2 Before we accept your reservation for a flight, we will notify you of the scheduled flight time in effect as of that time, and it will be shown on your Ticket. It is possible we may need to change the scheduled flight time subsequent to the issuance of your Ticket. If you provide us with contact information, we will endeavor to notify you of any such changes. If, after you purchase your Ticket, we make a significant change to the schedule flight time, which is not acceptable to you, and we are unable to book you on an alternate flight which is acceptable to you, you will be entitled to a refund in accordance with Article 10.2.

10.2 Involuntary Refunds

10.2.1 If we cancel a flight, fail to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule, fail to stop at your destination or Stopover, or cause you to miss a connecting flight on which you hold a reservation, the amount of the refund shall be:

10.2.1.1 if no portion of the Ticket has been used, an amount equal to the fare paid;

10.2.1.2 if a portion of the Ticket has been used, the refund will be not less than the difference between the fare paid and the applicable fare for travel between the points for which the Ticket has been used, provided that the refund shall not exceed the total fare paid.

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    Thank you! It was bought as a single ticket, so I’ll contact the company. If that does not work out, I’ll contact my insurance company.
    – GraftCraft
    Commented Apr 15 at 8:55
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    @GraftCraft A similar thing happened to me recently with Lufthansa, I had to organise and pay for my overnight hotel for the unexpected layover myself but I was able to claim the costs back from LH after taking the rearranged flight.
    – Traveller
    Commented Apr 15 at 9:05
  • That’s good to know. I don’t have any prior experience, so I don’t know what to expect
    – GraftCraft
    Commented Apr 15 at 11:21
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    No need to contact an insurance company. You can ALWAYS get a full refund on a ticket if they make major changes to the flight. They will try to make you think you have to accept their changes, or rebook with them, but if you ask insistently enough they will ALWAYS give you a refund. Commented Apr 15 at 20:43
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    @DJClayworth Refund, perhaps; extra costs for additional hotel nights due to a changed itinerary will far from always be covered by the airline. Commented Apr 16 at 16:58
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Some extra tips to an already very good answer.

What are our rights?

Typically your options are a) accept as is, b) ask to be rescheduled or c) cancel for a full refund.

Unfortunately the timing here is not great. It's more than 2 weeks, so you are not entitled to compensation but it's pretty short notice to find alternative tickets.

Is this normal?

No. Rebooking after rescheduling is quite common but a two day layover isn't. Air China offered you a very unattractive option most likely because anything else would cost them extra money. Chances are earlier Air China flights are sold out. This means they would have to put you on a different carrier, which they need to pay for.

You definitely should contact them, but there are few things you can do to prepare.

  1. Chances are Air China will try to steer you towards cancel/refund since this is the cheapest option for them. Figure out up front if there are reasonable alternatives and whether this is acceptable to you.
  2. Do not accept a 2 day layover (unless you are fine with). Use the words "unreasonable" and "not comparable".
  3. Search for alternative routings yourself upfront. Air China can put pretty much on any Star Alliance (Turkish, Swiss, Lufthansa, ANA, Thai, etc) flight without too much trouble. See what options are available that would work for you and specifically request the agent to book them for you. If they refuse ask "why?".
  4. Chances are the problem is the PEK->CPH. You can ask the agent to route you to a different airport nearby and an extra leg to CPH. Air China serves FRA, MUC, GVA, CDG, MXP, LGW, LHR, etc. There are plenty of Star Alliance flights any of these cities to CPH.
  5. Be friendly but firm and persistent. Having done your homework upfront can help a lot: the agents have a fair bit of leeway but they are incentivized to do what's cheapest for the airline, not what's best for you. So this will depend on your negotiation skills.

Personally I found figuring out my preferred option (plus 1 or 2 alternatives) and then asking the agent point blank about it had a good rate of success, partially you are saving the agent a lot of work, which they often appreciate.

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    Regarding re-routing, this is probably your best bet, but I recommend reading up on the relevant airports and looking at flights first. VIE or ARN would probably be my first choices as stops on the way from PEK to CPH, neither one is significantly out of the way, both have Air China flights from PEK and multiple Star Alliance flights onward to CPH, and I know both to be very efficient, well designed airports that don’t deal with huge volumes of traffic (so they’re less likely to be a cause of delays). Commented Apr 15 at 17:04
  • Thanks for concrete advice! It made me feel well prepared when calling Air China. They insisted that we would still have to have some sort of layover in Beijing, so in the end they offered a layover in Beijing before connecting to Frankfurt and then finally flying to Copenhagen. Adding another layover is not ideal, but it was the only solution they offered, when we insisted that we had to be home on May the second.
    – GraftCraft
    Commented Apr 20 at 12:40

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