10

12 of us booked flights with Thomas Cook airlines to travel from Manchester to Dalaman. A month or so after booking we were notified that instead of departing at 9am our flight had been changed to 6am. We all live in Scotland and chose these flights as the original times fitted in with making the journey from Scotland to Manchester (4 hours).

We are now in a situation where we have no choice but to travel to Manchester the evening before. We also have to book accommodation which we will barely be able to use since we have to be at the airport at 3/4am to check in. We have tried on several occasions to appeal to Thomas Cook that since we are travelling from Scotland with several young children this flight change will cause us major inconvenience. We haven't asked for a refund just that we be changed to the flight on the previous day which is in the middle of the day and won't cause us inconvenience.

What are our rights ? I know when I have flown with EasyJet and Ryanair if they change your flight by a few minutes they have usually allowed to to reject the changes. Thomas Cook haven't allowed us to do anything other than accept these changes.

  • 3
    How long in advance of the travel date did they inform you about the schedule change? A refund is probably all you're legally entitled to in this situation. "We haven't asked for a refund just to be moved to a different flight" sounds strange -- the word "just" would normally mean you're asking for less than the refund you're (probably) entitled to. – Henning Makholm Apr 12 '16 at 11:54
  • Something to look at maphappy.org/2013/06/… and here too thisismoney.co.uk/money/experts/article-2658836/… – DumbCoder Apr 12 '16 at 12:25
  • Original flight at 9am so check-in latest at 8am, 4 hours travel time from Scotland so start time around 4 am? Did you mean 9pm? How would this be easier than traveling the night before, particularly with small children? – mkennedy Apr 12 '16 at 17:47
  • We have asked to be moved to the flight the day before and have offered to pay the difference in price, which is what I meant by "just". Check in time 2 hours before flight, don't know about you but I always build in contingency time. Anyway that's irrelevant as we had always planned on staying the night before. My point is that we now have to be out of our bed at 3am when we will only arrive there late evening, so no real point in staying the night! – LNM Apr 13 '16 at 12:56
5

When you purchase a ticket on an airline, any airline, you have agreed to both terms and conditions of the ticket and to the airline's Conditions of Carriage (or Contract of Carriage, or General Conditions of Carriage, etc.). The Conditions of Carriage is your contract with the airline, and sets forth what the passenger can expect as far as accommodations in case of delay or cancellation, advance notice of flight changes, and so forth, as well as what they are required to do in terms of payment, arrival at the airport prior to the flight, baggage size, and so on.

The Thomas Cook Airlines UK Conditions of Carriage, Section A5.1 reads

5.1 Schedule Changes
We will inform you of any significant changes to your flight as soon as we become aware of them. If flight times change significantly, we will send a revised confirmation itinerary to the email address or postal address that you gave at the time of booking. If a travel agent has made the booking on your behalf, all confirmations will be sent to that travel agent. However, it is your responsibility to reconfirm all flight details at least 48 hours prior to departure by viewing your booking itinerary online using our ‘Manage Booking’ facility on this website.

Departure and flight times shown may change between the date of booking and the date you actually travel. We do not guarantee them to you and they do not form part of your contract with us.

Before we accept your booking, we will notify you of the scheduled flight time in effect at that time, and it will be shown on your Ticket. It is possible that we may need to change the scheduled flight time subsequent to issue of your ticket. If you provide us with contact information, we will endeavour to notify you of any such changes. If there is a flight change on your booking, a significant change is: a change of time over 12 hours or more, a change of destination, or a change of the UK departure airport. Any other change is not a significant change. Any change which is not deemed to be significant will be classed as a minor change. If, after you purchase your Ticket, we make a significant change to the scheduled 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 may be entitled to a refund.

[emphasis added] This is repeated under Section A17:

17. Changes made by Thomas Cook Airlines prior to travel
The flight times shown may change between the date of booking and the date you actually travel. We do not guarantee them to you and they do not form part of your contract with us. Before we accept your booking, we will notify you of the scheduled flight time in effect at that time, and it will be shown on your confirmation email. It is possible we may need to change the scheduled flight time. If you provide us with contact information, we will endeavour to notify you of any such changes. If, after you make your booking, we make a significant change to the scheduled 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. If there is a flight change on your booking, a significant change is: a change of time over 12 hours or more, a change of destination, or a change of the UK departure airport. Any other change is not a significant change. Any change which is not deemed to be significant will be classed as a minor change. Occasionally your airline has to make changes on the day of departure that can result in withdrawal or changes to pre-booked flight services.

[emphasis added]

Ryanair's contract, in contrast, states

9.1.1 The flight timings shown on your Confirmation/Itinerary or elsewhere may change between the date of reservation and the date of travel.
9.1.2 When we accept your booking, we will notify you of the scheduled flight timings in effect as of that time, and it will be shown on your Confirmation/Itinerary. It is possible we may need to change the scheduled flight timings after you have booked your flight. If you provide us with your e-mail address and an away contact number, we will endeavour to notify you of any changes by such means. In the situations not covered by Article 9.2 below, if, after you make your reservation, but before the date of travel, we change the scheduled departure time by more than three hours and this is unacceptable to you and we are unable to book you on an alternative flight which is acceptable to you, you will be entitled to a refund for all monies paid in respect of the time changed flight.

Most of the above is standard language; you'll find very similar wording in BA's Conditions of Carriage or Virgin Atlantic's Conditions of Carriage, for example. A key difference is that neither BA nor Virgin define what a significant change is. This gives their agents a good deal of leeway. Ryanair puts a significant change at three hours. Thomas Cook pushes it out to twelve.

Unfortunately, because of the way Thomas Cook's contract is written, you have very little recourse here.

  • The change was less than twelve hours, and so not a significant change as defined by the contract. They will say they owe you nothing at all.
  • You did not experience a delay, bump, or cancellation, so stipulations for delayed, bumped, or cancelled passengers do not apply to you, nor does any obvious part of the European Union Air Passenger Rights legislation, which is similarly focused on delays, denied boarding situations, and cancellations.
  • Thomas Cook is focused on leisure travelers, who as a whole tend to be more price-sensitive and less time-sensitive (whereas business travelers as a whole tend to be more time-sensitive and less price-sensitive). As such, they and airlines like them will make decisions that may negatively affect reliability in the interest of keeping their ticket prices low. In other words, their very business model requires that they be able to impose changes like this.

As such, any refund or other accommodation you can get from them seems like it would be done as a customer service gesture as opposed to any legal or contractual obligation. I would try to explain, calmly, the great inconvenience this is causing your party, and the negative impression it is leaving on a large multi-generational group, and that it is in your mutual interest to be reaccommodated. But there are no guarantees. Even if they were willing to move you to the previous flight, that flight could be full or cancelled.

Having organized groups of similar size, I know how difficult it must have been to get everyone to this point, especially with children. But in the grand scheme of things, if they decline you reaccommodation, it may be best to move on and just try to enjoy the holiday otherwise. In a time when a man in wheelchair was forced to crawl off an aircraft, and fistfights have broken out over seat reclining, flight being moved three hours earlier is not the most compelling cause for a Twitter campaign. And if you ever fly them again, your expectations have been set at a low bar.

  • 2
    @CMaster I'm no lawyer, certainly not on EU law, but I couldn't find anything on Europa.eu about flights being moved up, whereas there is quite a lot on delays, bumps, and cancellations as noted. This situation might even be a side effect of those regulations— cheaper to move the flight up three hours than to cancel it. – choster Apr 12 '16 at 15:25
  • 2
    @CMaster: I don't think there's anything in the EU passenger rights law, but the applicable national consumer contract law may or may not (I have no idea) allow the passenger to void the contract due to broken assumptions, if the court finds that a unilateral right for the airline to move around the travel time by 12 hours is unconsciounable. It will be a much harder legal fight than appealing to a clearly defined passenger right, though. – Henning Makholm Apr 12 '16 at 17:19
  • 2
    @choster The ECJ ruled that any change to the flight's plan is a "cancellation" (as opposed to a delay, where the original flight plan is not abandoned), see Case C‑173/07, para. 40. If the notification was done less than two weeks before the flight, the poster should be entitled to compensation in accordance with the regulation. In practice it's still hard to get in cases like this. – neo Apr 12 '16 at 17:34
  • 1
    In the UK, paragraph 13 of Schedule 2 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that contact a contract "term which has the object or effect of enabling the trader to alter unilaterally without a valid reason any characteristics of the goods, digital content or services to be provided" may be found to be unfair. It is possible, but by no means certain, that this could apply to Thomas Cook's definition of "significant change" -- especially in light of the fact that flights on different times of the day can support very different prices, showing that the timing is important to consumers. – Henning Makholm Apr 12 '16 at 17:38
  • 1
    @neo: The case you cite was about whether the return part of a round-trip ticket from an EU origin to a non-EU destination and back again on a non-EU carrier is covered by the EU rules (the conclusion was that it isn't). I don't see any support there (in paragraph 40 or any other paragrah) for the proposition you're citing it for. – Henning Makholm Apr 12 '16 at 17:49
1

In a situation like this, you are entitled to a full refund. That's all. It's in your terms and conditions somewhere. Yes, it's patently unfair, but it's the way things work.

Your only way to get shifted to the previous flight is to negotiate, and your only leverage is that you are entitled to a refund. The airline does not particularly want to lose 12 fares, so call them and tell them you'll be cancelling the flights unless they can shift you to something convenient. Of course, if the flights you want are already full, then the airline isn't going to bump paying passengers to accommodate you.

It may be better to negotiate with the airline rather than the travel agent, unless this is part of a package deal, in which case the agent will probably try to accommodate you to avoid you cancelling the whole package.

Incidentally 3 hours change is pretty close to the limit where you might not even be entitled to a refund.

  • Thomas Cook are a Tour Operator which operates an airline. I don't know what deal the OP has obviously. – CMaster Apr 12 '16 at 13:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.