With all of the negative press major airlines have been receiving lately for their treatment of paying customers, it’s not hard to imagine what you would do if something similar happened to you while traveling. From flight cancellations to lost luggage, what exactly are you entitled to as a passenger of an airplane? And what rights do you automatically terminate when you purchase your ticket or board the aircraft? To help clarify these issues, we’ve detailed 4 common scenarios and what your rights are for each situation.
1. If you get involuntarily bumped from your flight
Airlines frequently over-sell seats on their planes to make up for inevitable “no-show” passengers. This, in of itself, is not an illegal practice. When an airline overbooks a flight and there aren’t enough seats for all of the passengers, the Department of Transportation requires that the airline ask passengers individually if anyone would be willing to voluntarily give up their seat in exchange for compensation. If enough people volunteer, you’re in the clear. But even if you don’t volunteer (and no one else does,) it is possible that you could STILL find yourself bumped off of your flight, even if you are in desperate circumstances.
This, unfortunately, is an instance where you’ve given up your rights. When you purchased your ticket, you agreed to the airline’s “Contract of Carriage,” which means that the airline has every right to remove you from a flight if it’s overbooked, but not without compensating you for your trouble. You’ll receive a letter explaining how the decision is made to remove certain passengers. You’ll also receive compensation that corresponds to the hassle experienced. If the airline is able to provide transportation for you to arrive at your destination within an hour of your original arrival time, then you won’t get much, or any, compensation.
But, if you choose to make your own arrangements or the airline is unable to secure substitute transportation within an hour of your arrival time, you’ll receive up to 400% of your one-way fare, plus the ability to use your ticket on a future flight. You also have the right to demand cash, as opposed to a cashier’s check; and don’t ever accept airline credit. Go for the check or cash to avoid being taken advantage of!
2. If your luggage is delayed, damaged or lost
Even though it rarely happens, losing luggage is a prevalent fear for travelers worldwide. The good news is that if an airline permanently loses or damages your bag beyond all repair, they are required to compensate you for the depreciated value of the belongings and luggage (after filing a lengthy claim, of course.) If your bag is merely delayed an hour or two, you’ll just have to wait around and bide your time until it arrives. If the bag is delayed for over a day, though, you’ll be able to be reimbursed for certain items like necessities or be compensated for the wait time.
3. When purchasing a ticket
Airline passengers have a lot of rights before actually stepping foot on their plane, including price guarantees when purchasing your ticket. By law, you’re allowed 24 hours after booking to change or cancel a reservation without financial penalty (if the flight is more than a week away). Consumers are also protected from fare increases after purchasing a ticket. Once you pay for your ticket (even if the fare was an error on the airline’s part,) the airline has to honor that price and can’t jack up the cost of anything after the fact. That applies to luggage fees, as well. If you prepay for a checked bag, the airline can not increase that price once you get to the airport.
4. Services that must be available to you on an airplane
Some travelers aren’t aware of their rights to basic necessities on an airplane. Airlines are required to provide adequate food and water for passengers if the flight is delayed more than an hour and is just sitting on the tarmac. There’s also a rule that prohibits planes from remaining on the tarmac for more than 3 hours without rerouting for deplaning of passengers or at least allowing passengers to leave the plane if they wish. The airplane is also required to have functioning lavatories for passengers and provide updates every 30 minutes on the delay and the options currently available to passengers.