Steve Verna wants to know how to change a flight for free. After all, American Airlines has canceled the last leg of his trip. But can he avoid the $325 change fee the airline wants him to pay?

Q: I have a question about my rights as an airline passenger. My partner and I have arranged a trip to Europe. It’s a six-segment airline trip. On the fifth leg, we’re supposed to fly from London to New York. 

Our connecting flight leaves New York at 10 p.m. for Washington. However, we found out that American Airlines canceled that to Washington. There are no other flights that leave New York after we arrive. Instead, American has rescheduled us for a flight from New York to Washington at 6:54 a.m. the next day. That means we now have an almost 11-hour layover in New York, making it a 26-hour trip.

I spoke to an American representative and asked if there would be any penalties if we just dropped the last leg of our trip from our reservation. Since we would not be taking part of the trip, I thought we might actually get a bit of money back. Instead, the representative told me there would be an additional fee of $325 each for “changing our reservation.” Imagine my surprise! Can you tell me how to change a flight for free? Steve Verna, Falls Church, Virginia

A: This is an absurd problem. You shouldn’t have to pay American airlines to drop the last leg of your flight. It should pay you the value of your missed segment.

I see two possible solutions. First, you could go for the refund and find another way to travel to Washington. Or you could give American a chance to rebook you on a different flight.


I reviewed your itinerary. It involves multiple airlines, including American, British Airways and Iberia. With so many carriers, something’s bound to go wrong. (My advice: Hold on to your luggage. It’s easy to get lost between airlines.)

Why is American charging you a change fee? Any time you change your schedule, American charges a fee. That’s how airlines make money. But why is American keeping the money for the last segment? It probably recalculated the fare to end in New York, which might have been a more expensive ticket.

Like I said, absurd.

Come to think of it, there’s an option three. You could have disembarked in New York and thrown away the last part of your ticket. If you do that, make sure you don’t check any luggage and don’t give American your frequent flier number. The airline might ask you to pay a change fee and, if you don’t, might suspend your account. 

Finally, you might have appealed this odd request by American. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the American Airlines executives on my nonprofit consumer-advocacy site.

I contacted American on your behalf. It went with option two and helped you rebook your flight so you would avoid a long layover in New York. It turns out you didn’t have to know how to change a flight for free. Good luck with your trip.