Does an Airline's Airplane Change, Resulting in a Recliner Seat Instead of a Flat Bed Business Class Seat, Qualify for a Refund? As with so many things, it depends. For example, Delta's Contract of Carriage explicitly excludes aircraft types and seat assignments from its contract, so there's no passenger right to a refund if Delta has an equipment swap such that your previous flat bed seat is now a recliner seat.
On the other hand, United Airlines' Contract of Carriage, under Rule 24 Flight Delays/Cancellations/Aircraft Changes, 7. Irregular Operations includes 7.c. “Substitution of aircraft type that provides different classes of service or different seat configurations”
United's CoC provides that “If a Passenger is not transported as provided in E) 2) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request. See Rule 27 A).”
Calling United to Obtain a Refund for an Aircraft Change
Originally, I was to have flown to Hawaii later this year on a work trip. I monitored the flights for schedule changes, but both schedules remained intact. If there had been a significant schedule change, that would have been the easiest way to obtain a refund (see Airline Schedule Change Refund Rules).
What changed, however, was the aircraft on our LAX-HNL leg; originally, when we booked, it was on a 777 with flat bed seats, but when I checked more recently, the aircraft had been changed to a 737-900 with recliner seats. I called United's 800 number, and there was about a 10 minute wait for an agent, as well as the option to receive a call back.
The first agent I spoke with was pleasant, but after I explained that I needed a full refund due to the equipment change, she asked “to check on something.” After she returned to the line, apologizing for the wait, she started to explain that the rate code I booked under didn't allow a refund or change. I thanked her but explained that United's Contract of Carriage did allow it, and she transferred me to a supervisor.
The United Airlines supervisor was likewise polite, and as soon as I explained exactly what I was referring to in United's Contract of Carriage, she agreed to fully refund our paid business class tickets, which, since they were booked last year, were over $2500 for the two tickets.
I've since rescheduled our flights, but as award flights using Ultimate Rewards points transferred to United MileagePlus miles.
Many airlines don't consider an equipment swap, even one from a full flat bed seat to a recliner seat, to be sufficient for a full refund. That said, check the airline's Contract of Carriage, and it's always worth politely calling the airline to try to obtain a full refund or at least a free change if the airline does do an equipment swap, such that your seat is significantly different, such as a change from a full flat bed seat to a recliner seat.
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