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flights for sale that aren't currently flying?

I vaguely remember seeing mention that (to paraphrase) airlines are offering flights for sale that don't actually exist and then when time gets near for the flight they give you a new itinerary with different times and connections, take it or leave it.

This has me worried because I am planning to go to London this June. I see a United flight, UA930, on the United site that says it leaves SFO at 7:50pm and arrives LHR at 2:10pm the following day. I can purchase a ticket for this flight and select a seat. But when I go to https://flightaware.com/live/flight/UAL930 it shows the flight as cancelled back in March 2020.

So how can I find out if this is a real flight I can take this summer?

Posted by
343 posts

Define "real" . It maybe a seasonal flight anyways - which is due to restart ? I have a booking to Hawaii and I know the airline is not flying there at the moment - is due to start a few weeks before we fly. Its worth having the booking because of changes to the border rules I'm pretty confident it will happen

Posted by
2063 posts

This happened to us Sept, 2021, and I posted our experiences here, along with the Flight Aware site. Did you check other days of the week for the flight? I've noticed that some of the airlines that are re-introducing flights are not flying them everyday.
Good luck!

Posted by
171 posts

John- It doesn't help much but it 'used' to be (in the before days) a real standard, daily flight. United flew 2 flights a day to London out of SFO (later afternoon and then a second in the early evening). This was the 2nd flight of the day and the one I often took (prefer night flights going over to sleep). When will it return to daily service? Maybe time to call United and see if they can tell you about the 'return' date plans of the flight.

Posted by
11212 posts

There are a few people here who by coincidence had their flights changed and when they checked FlightAware saw the flight hadn't flown awhile. They think it was a conspiracy by the airline to get their money. It wasn't.

Many flight were cancelled during Covid. Now that business is picking up, flights are being restarted.

If the airline offers a flight, it has plans to fly it. Does that mean on the day you are supposed to fly there won't be any problems? Of course not. Could there still be a schedule change . Of course. If you limit yourself only to flights that are currently running, you will be limiting yourself to very few flights.

I have a flight in three weeks. That flight is starting up again week before my date of flight. It has not run since the beginning of the pandemic. I'm not worried.

Airlines don't sell tickets on flights they don't plan to operate. It's bad business. It's also fraud.

Posted by
3019 posts

One of my esteemed fellow forum members consistently derides people who bring up this issue. There is a lot more nuance to this issue than that esteemed forum member acknowledges, and much of it has to do with how airlines changed operations during the pandemic.

Airlines do indeed create schedules that they plan to fly. Pre-pandemic, airline schedules were pretty rock solid. If a flight existed in the schedule, it was almost certain it would operate. The pandemic, of course, changed everything. Early in the pandemic airlines "suspended" the vast majority of transatlantic routes and cut frequencies on routes that survived. Suspended routes/flights are routes/flights that an airline plans to restart at some specific future date. Early on, flights were suspended for a month or two. When it became apparent COVID-19 was a big deal, re-start dates were pushed father into the future.

Last spring, airlines hoped vaccines would result in much increased travel by fall. So, the airlines had optimistic restart dates for suspended flights and started selling tickets on routes/flights they hoped to fly in the summer/fall but were suspended at the time of sale.

For example, in spring 2021, I had 6 or 7 choices for transatlantic flights on Lufthansa and its partners for a fall 2021 trip to Bosnia. Only one was operating at that time, but (again) the airline hoped travel would rebound, so it was selling tickets on the suspended routes. I purposely bought a ticket on the currently-operating flight. Travel did not rebound as much as hoped, and when the time came for the flights in the fall, the only transatlantic flight option from the spring that actually operated was the the single one that was operating in the spring; all the suspended flights either had their re-start date moved into the future or had been cancelled altogether (meaning there was no longer a plan to operate them in the future). I suspect this is what happened to Pat. She likely bought a ticket on a suspended flight whose re-start date was moved into the future. I will respectfully submit that anyone who contemptuously and persistently demeans a fellow forum member across multiple threads for sharing such experience (and giving guidance based on her experience) lacks a basic understanding of how airlines operated during the pandemic and empathy for how that impacted others.

The good news is that travel seems to be rebounding very nicely. Delta reported last week that within the prior week it had its highest booking day in the history of the airline. Delta's scheduled re-start dates for transatlantic flights have held true the last few months. My esteemed forum member's description of typical pre-pandemic airline operations appears to be becoming more and more the reality of current operations. While airlines continue to tinker with their schedules far more than they did pre-pandemic, this spring's schedules appear to be far more reliable than last spring's schedules -- barring anything that suddenly upsets sales.

Posted by
3019 posts

For the record, I write the above as someone who holds a May 14 ticket for Delta's currently suspended Detroit to Munich service that restarts May 5. 🙂

Posted by
5842 posts

I am with some of the others. every flight on the schedule is a "real" flight, just realize in these time, schedules are changing frequently. Airlines look out several months, anticipate what volumes will be, if they guess wrong they reduce flights, much harder if you underestimate, as adding a flight late in the game is difficult.

You can rationalize that the flight they decide to cut will be a route they are not flying now, and selectively pick a route currently flying (limiting your options and likely costing you more), but the decision is made on volumes, and likely that "real" flight will see schedule changes anyway.

Just schedule the best flight that works for you at the cost you want, yes, it will likely see some changes, but you will get there anyway.

Posted by
5110 posts

Purchase the flight you want on United. There are never any guarantees for any flight, but I would purchase it and then just check it every week or so.

Posted by
2063 posts

Dave, good luck on your spring flight.

We will also be traveling late April, and feel confident [as any passenger can be] that our plane will be flying, because British Airways has re-established service in San Diego. Of course, after 7 flight cancelations from our Sept, 2121, trip, our baseline set of exceptions is not high :) .
Safe travels!

Posted by
3105 posts

We got caught in the situation of paying for a flight in 2021 and then finding out, thanks to Pat mentioning Flightaware, to check our actual route, two legs each. It was then that we noticed that one of the flights hadn’t flown since March of 2020. We called SAS who assured us that it was still a route even though it hadn’t flown for a year+. Then on a second call they said it no longer showed up on the booking engine of SAS because it was likely full. All of that seemed really suspicious to us. We booked nothing else and waited until closer to our day to fly. Two weeks before our travel date SAS sent us an email that one leg of the flight, Munich to Copenhagen was cancelled so they cancelled the whole booking. We called to see if they would let us fly FRA to CPH or just round trip in and out of CPH but the answers were No and No. They refunded our $ and that was our failed 2021 European trip.

SAS had our money for 6 months and I’d say that was unethical given the route that hadn’t operated for over a year. Please don’t say this hasn’t happened. There are too many people who experienced this booking with no route in the past 2 years to say otherwise.

Posted by
742 posts

Two weeks before our travel date SAS sent us an email that one leg of the flight, Munich to Copenhagen was cancelled so they cancelled the whole booking.

While many relies have been reassuring, this is the scenario that has me worried. We are going on a RS tour and so we really need to get across the Atlantic. We've picked a nonstop flight to minimize chances of one leg being cancelled, but if the only leg is cancelled...

Posted by
1772 posts

Well, I went to the airport website, LAS for me, to see if the flight we were traveling on was listed on their departure board. That works unless your flight is a seasonal flight.

Posted by
11212 posts

There is no guarantee that any flight will operate on a certain day. But lets say your fight is cancelled. United will then try to rebook you on another flight. That means they may route you via Denver, Chicago, Washington DC or Newark. All have United flight to London.

If you're really worried, travel a couple of days earlier so you don't miss the tour.

BTW, if you live in Van Nuys, why aren't flying out of LAX?

Posted by
742 posts

BTW, if you live in Van Nuys, why aren't flying out of LAX?

family trip, they're up north