Whether you’re jetting off for vacation or rushing to get home for work, nothing is more annoying than a delayed or cancelled flight. Flight delays can set into motion a domino effect that throws your calendar into disarray and sometimes even costs you money. As air travel becomes increasingly important to our daily lives, being familiar with airline passenger rights can come in handy.
What are airline passenger rights?
Most people think that airline passenger rights, such as delayed flight compensation, are determined by airline regulations. However, while some rights are determined by federal laws, most airline passenger rights are governed by the contract of carriage between the airline and the customer. In other words, this contract is what you agree to in the fine print when you purchase an airline ticket. Airlines are required to post their contracts of carriage on their websites.
There are different rules for international flights, usually offering more protection for passengers. If you are interested in learning more about airline regulations for international flights, here is a great resource.
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What are my rights if airline cancels flight?
Most people are surprised to learn that there is no law establishing flight cancellations rights, or what an airline must do if your flight is cancelled. Instead, this will be determined by the contract of carriage. Most airlines offer to put a passenger on the next flight out or refund the unused portion of the ticket. There is also no guarantee that you will get the same seat you originally booked. If you move from first class to coach you can expect an additional refund, where as if you are moved up on the rescheduled flight you cannot be charged for this upgrade.
Unfortunately, there are few options outside of this and there is no guarantee that the airline will pay for the increased expenses caused by the cancellation. Some passengers find it easier to call the airline rather than try to work things out at the ticket counter. In short, if your flight is cancelled stay calm, review the contract of carriage, and ask questions about what your airline’s policies are.
Do airlines have to compensate for delayed flights?
Much like flight cancellations, there are no federal laws requiring airlines to do anything for passengers on delayed flights. Some airlines will provide amenities such as meals under the contract of carriage, other airlines, usually the ones offering tickets on a budget, do not offer anything for passengers stranded at an airport by a flight delay. Some airlines will pay for delayed flight compensation when the delay is caused by the airline’s own fault, but not when it’s due to weather or mechanical issues.
Although it may be difficult during busy seasons, occasionally the airline will agree to endorse your ticket over to another airline with a flight that works for you. If you find a flight on a different airline, be sure to ask about your airline’s cancellation fee before proceedings. If your flight is delayed, calmly ask the airline if they can provide anything for meals or a hotel, and actively work to find a solution on your own if the length of the delay isn’t known.
What are your rights if you get bumped from a flight?
Being bumped from an on-time flight is perhaps one of the most annoying travel situations a person can encounter. You paid for the ticket, your arrived on time, and suddenly you’re kicked off a sold-out flight, left standing at the gate wondering “Is overbooking legal?”
How can airlines overbook flights?
Unlike flight delays and cancellations, there are laws that actually make it legal for airlines to oversell flights. The underlying principle is that this helps keep ticket costs down by insulating airlines from the expense of passengers who cancel. However, this rarely feels fair when you’re the one getting bumped from a flight.
When an airline sells an overbooked flight, they will first ask for volunteers to be bumped. This can be a great solution for passengers who aren’t in a rush because you usually get a voucher for another flight in the future and occasionally money to cover the expense of your delay.
Can airlines bump passengers involuntarily?
However, if there are no volunteers the airline will have to involuntarily bump some passengers based on criteria set out on the contract of carriage. These criteria usually include the cost of the ticket, check in time, and flyer status, among other things.
If you have been involuntarily bumped from a flight, the airline is now required to provide you with these criteria in writing, and you may be entitled to delayed flight compensation depending on when the airline can get you to your intended destination.
- If you will arrive within 1 hour of your original arrival time, no compensation.
- Within 1-2 hours domestic (1-4 international), compensation of 200% of your one-way ticket ($675 maximum).
- More than 2 hours domestic (more than 4 hours internationally), or if the airline does not make new travel arrangements for you, you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare ($1350 maximum).
At the end of the day, domestic airline passengers have fewer rights than most people think, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your flight is delayed or you get bumped. Check into your airlines’ rules and be friendly asking questions at the counter. If you don’t get the information you need, try calling the airline or looking into other solutions on your own. Remember, the goal is arriving safely at your destination, even if you’re behind schedule!