Q. Earlier this year I booked a trip on United from Baltimore to Las Vegas for my wife and two sons (ages 2 and 3). With some hesitation we booked a one-stop flight (total travel time 6.5 hours) for the return because it saved us $1000 over the nonstop return flight (5 hours). We like to keep the flights as short as possible with the little ones and an extra 90 minutes seemed worth it to for this cash-strapped family to save $1000. I was notified last week that the schedule had changed from a Las Vegas to Denver to Baltimore itinerary to a Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Baltimore trip! In other words, United added an extra stop with a change of planes in San Francisco and with a total trip time of 11.5 hours.
I've called twice and spoke to different reservations agents and they say they can't get me on anything less than the two-stop flight we're already on that day. They offered to change the dates of flights, but the date changes offered didn't work with our schedule. I go on their website and I can see several one-stop and even nonstop flights available to the Washington D.C area.
Is this a common practice? Is there any recourse?
A. It is a common practice, unfortunately, and it should be outlawed, if, in fact, there are still seats available for sale on your original itinerary. This happened to a friend of mile who found a great fare on Delta flying nonstop from New York to Denver for $149 round-trip. Delta informed him that he was now on connecting flights, even though Delta still flew that route nonstop. But at the time of the change, only $700 fares were available on the nonstop. Clearly, Delta had decided that they no longer wanted to fly my friend nonstop for so little money and was selling the nonstop at higher fares. My friend had to call Delta three times before they agreed to put him on the nonstop again at the original fare.
If you were to change your travel plans, United would charge you $150, but it appears they're allowed to change your plans at will. I would absolutely call United again and again until they change you back to a one-connection or one-stop flight (I don't believe that United flies Las Vegas to Baltimore nonstop, and perhaps you were actually booked on a US Airways code share flight on the outbound trip). Especially now that United is being integrated with Continental Airlines, you should be able to connect through one of the combined airlines' many hubs, such as Houston, Cleveland, Newark, Chicago, and Denver on a one-stop itinerary. Or insist that they fly you to Washington Dulles, which is also a United hub.