Steamboat Springs Airline passengers flying out of Yampa Valley Regional Airport after Oct. 1 will find rules regarding ticket refunds have changed. And unless they are paying close attention, they could find out the hard way.
The results could be that some fliers will lose their investments in plane tickets.
United Airlines announced this month that passengers with nonrefundable tickets who fail to make their originally scheduled flight, must formally change their plans before the flight departs. Otherwise they will no longer have the option of taking up to a year to rebook.
And the tickets will no longer have any value.
United, with its contractor, Air Wisconsin, is the only commercial airline serving Northwest Colorado, with three daily flights into YVRA in spring, summer and fall.
United's change in policy brings it in line with other major airlines that have done the same. The change in policy at United applies to nonrefundable tickets purchased on or after Sept. 6, for travel originating on or after Oct. 1.
The airlines will continue to collect a $100 change fee from passengers who call ahead and adjust their plans. Travelers who hope to wait and fly standby later in the day will also be charged $100.
Travel agent Shirlee Finney of Great Escape Travel in Steamboat Springs said the new policy could be tough on travelers who get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport.
"It's very confusing to a lot of people," Finney said. "United hasn't been good about informing the public of changes in policies."
Travelers who fail to notify the airlines in advance of a change in plans are at risk of losing the full value of their tickets.
In a memo to travel agents explaining the new policy, United officials wrote, "After the departure date, the ticket will have no value for travel or exchange."
Finney said she has not been informed of how close travelers can come to their scheduled departure time and still change their travel plans. She recommends making the changes no closer than two hours to departure time.
The greatest impact of the new policy will be felt by business travelers who need some flexibility in their travel plans, Finney predicted. By far the majority of those business travelers are simply seeking a later flight on the same day.
"They may be in a board meeting that lasts an hour and a half longer than anticipated," Finney said.
"You sometimes can't get up during a meeting and change a flight. Most of them want to get home. The delays aren't of their choosing."
United also announced this month it is moving toward entirely phasing out paper tickets in favor of electronic ticketing.
"United will stop issuing paper tickets within the United States by July 2003; the carrier plans to issue only electronic tickets for all eligible itineraries, at all locations domestic and international by January 2004," airline officials wrote in the memo to travel agents.
Travelers will still be able to obtain paper tickets from travel agents, but they'll pay a $20 fee to the airline for the privilege. Again, Finney said, business travelers will be affected. They often know that if they have to change a flight, they can take a paper ticket directly to the ticket window at another airline and have it honored.
Travelers who have electronic tickets must first stand in line at United to obtain a paper ticket that they can take to another airline.