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It's Amazing What Airlines Get Away With

Delta-USAir-taxis

 (Reuters)

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday travel rush is over, it's a good time to remind readers the extent of what the airlines get away with when it comes to customer service. 

On July 26, 2011, Eugene, Ore. resident Julie Smithmart purchased an airline ticket from US Airways. What she ended up with was a "code share" ticket on United Airlines for travel on December 25, 2011 (Des Moines to Eugene, Ore. with a connection in Denver), returning on December 31, 2011. 

On Sunday November 13, 2011, she logged into check her arrival time in Eugene. Instead of a confirmed reservation she discovered that her Des Moines to Denver and Denver to Des Moines legs had been cancelled. 

US Airways didn't notify her of this. 

After over three hours on the phone with US Airways and United Smithmart was able to rebook flights, but was forced to change her return date to January 2, 2012. 

"I have requested some kind of compensation for my additional vacation days lost, hotel, food, and rental car expenses," she says. "But I was told take this or get a refund of my ticket and rebook at my expense at a much higher fare on another airline with two changes of plane." 

What's particularly galling about this is that United/US Airways still flies from Eugene to Des Moines round-trip, and still has seats available for sale on Smithmart's original dates of travel, albeit at over $500 round-trip, less than Smithmart originally paid. Are there any consumer regulations in place to protect travelers like Smithmart? 

In a word, no. 

Every week, I receive complaints about airlines changing their schedules far in advance of travel (I'm not talking here about last minute cancellations), causing hardship and considerable extra expense for their customers. It's entirely unfair, and really, what other industry could get away with this? (That's why which I've called for 12 new consumer protections). 

Could a retailer substitute a lesser quality item than the one you originally bought at the last minute and expect you to pay more to get the item you actually ordered? Could a restaurant substitute a hamburger for the rib eye you originally purchased? Or how about a rock concert. 

Sure, concert dates are cancelled, but would the promoter change your date to another day and city without telling you? And then substitute the some B-list act for the Rolling Stones? And yet airlines get away with these shenanigans all the time. 

I've advised Smithmart to call US Airways again and insist that they rebook her on her original flights and keep calling until they do so. I would also lodge a complaint with the U.S. D.O.T. here.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com. Follow Airfarewatchdog on Twitter @airfarewatchdog for late-breaking unadvertised airfare sales and air travel advice.

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.