If you have ever had a flight cancelled, had a boarding pass but were denied boarding because they overbooked, been bumped just before boarding, sat on the tarmac for hours, or find that your luggage has been lost or delayed on arrival at your destination, you know how maddening it can be.
This is especially stressful if it’s not just you and now you have a melee of angry passengers looking to re book. To put it mildly they are stressed and upset and make it obvious, Then you have the drunk and the crying kids all of which add to the stress level when all you want is to board a plane and get to your destination on time.
In all of these cases, the airline owes you for your trouble. Sometimes it’s by law and other times it’s just good customer service – not all airlines are equal in the way they handle a variety of problems. Here are some of your legal rights you may not know you have..
Research and Know Your Rights in Advance
It makes sense to know your rights before you book. When you are stranded at the airport is no time to start researching to find out what you are entitled to and what rights you have in the particular situation you end up in. There are two resources that will help you understand your rights the US Department of Transportation Airline Passenger Protection Bill and the Air Consumer Flying Rights.
Locking in your Fare in advance of Payment
When booking a flight you can reserve and lock in your price for 24 hours or more without payment depending on the flight being booked. This works when booking direct with the airline or with your Travel Agent. This won’t necessarily work if booking your own fare online. At the time of making the reservation you must provide your exact name as it is on your passport or government ID. Names cannot be changed and if it’s wrong the reservation would be canceled starting back at the beginning looking for a new fare likely at a new more expensive price. This process gives you 24 hours or more to decide if that’s the flight you want before making payment. Remember that any requested changes during that time will cancel the reservation and start you back at the beginning with new information.
Prices do change quickly in the airline industry depending on the volumes booked on the flights. Booking last minute will likely cost you a lot more than booking 2 to 3 weeks out. When you get a good quote on the flight you want lock it in while you make a decision rather than losing out on the price while you decide.
You may not be aware but if you are bumped from a flight or if your luggage is lost or delayed you have a right to ask for cash. If they ask for volunteers because a flight is overbooked and offer a voucher for a future flight or a combination of cash and voucher most people will accept this. If that’s good with you then take it, but according to Airfare Watchdog you can ask for a cash payout on the spot depending on the amount of delay time In getting to your destination.:
Under US Department of Transportation rules bumped passengers subject to short delays will receive compensation equal to double the price of their tickets, while those subject to longer delays would receive payments of four times the value of their tickets. There are limits in place so check the DOT bill of rights for the latest compensation limits.
Short delays are 1-2 hours for domestic flights, and 1-4 hours for international flights. Longer delays are for times more than these. For outright cancellations, the airline owes a full refund, even on non-refundable flights.
Delayed or Lost Luggage
If your luggage is delayed or lost you are also entitled to compensation. Some airlines offer nothing other than delivery to your home or destination hotel when the luggage arrives, others offer a small amount of cash to cover essentials like toiletries, and others might offer a voucher for a discount on a future flight. The law actually says you are entitled to up to $3,300 for luggage delayed on a domestic flights and up to $1,500 for luggage delayed on an International Flight. The amount is determined by how long you are without your luggage. If the luggage is totally lost then you are entitled to the full compensation. Check the DOT bill of rights for the latest compensation limits.
Airlines are also required to apply the same baggage compensation for each segment of your trip if you have more than one flight including those with interline and code share partners.
The amount of time the airlines are allowed to keep you sitting on a plane on the tarmac before they allow you to deboard has changed. On a domestic flight the airline cannot keep you on the plane for more than 3 hours before allowing you to deplane. On International flights the amount of time they can keep you on the tarmac is 4 hours. The airlines are required to provide you with water and washroom access at all times during the delay..
Airlines will often give you what works for them, glossing over whats best for you and your passenger rights. Your best defense is to know your rights and to be willing to follow up with them when you have to.
Most airlines will try to give you a travel voucher, a discount on a future ticket, a flight upgrade or additional frequent flier miles instead of cash. If you are happy with any of these take them.
The airlines will do their best to re book you on another flight or with another airline. Rather than wait in the line up after a flight is canceled call the Airline direct to re book, you’ll get booked much faster than waiting in line. Make a note of the airline contact number and keep it handy just in case.
Better to be prepared and to know your rights before you fly, then you’ll know exactly what to do if and when the times comes.
In my next article I will elaborate on how to complain and how to go about getting what you are entitled to.