Whether you’re jetting off for vacation or rushing to get home for work, nothing is more annoying than a delayed or canceled 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.
Did you know there are rules in place that protect passengers and spell out an airline’s responsibility when something goes wrong? You have rights if your flight is delayed, you are stranded in the airport, or you cannot get to that important meeting or event in another city.
What Are Airline Passenger Rights?
Most people think that airline passenger rights, such as delayed flight compensation, are determined by airline regulations. However, while federal regulations determine some rights, the contract of carriage between the airline and the customer governs most airline passenger rights. Thus, the fine print when you purchase an airline ticket spells out most of your rights. Airlines must post their contracts of carriage on their websites.
International flights have different rules, usually offering more protections for passengers. If you are interested in learning more about airline regulations for international flights, a great resource is the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
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What Are My Rights If the Airline Cancels My Flight?
Most people are surprised to learn that no law establishes flight cancellation rights or what an airline must do if your flight is canceled. Instead, the contract of carriage determines what happens after cancellation for flights inside the United States.
Most airlines offer to put a passenger on the next flight out or refund the unused portion of the ticket. However, there is no guarantee that you will get the exact seat you originally booked. If you move from first class to coach, you can expect an additional refund, whereas if you move up on the rescheduled flight, the airline cannot charge you 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. They are unlikely to cover the cost of missed prepaid experiences or additional expenses related to delays because of your late arrival.
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 canceled, 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 is no federal law requiring U.S. airlines to do anything for passengers on delayed flights. Some airlines will provide amenities such as meals under the contract of carriage. However, other airlines—usually the ones offering tickets on a budget—offer nothing for passengers stranded at an airport by a flight delay.
Some airlines will pay for delayed flight compensation when the delay is the airline’s 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 proceeding.
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.
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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, you arrived on time, and suddenly you’re kicked off a sold-out flight, left standing at the gate wondering, “Is overbooking legal?” Unfortunately, this is a common situation passengers find themselves in, no matter which airline they prefer to fly.
How Can Airlines Overbook Flights?
While federal law does not protect ticketholders from flight delays and cancellations, the law does 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 an excellent solution for passengers who aren’t in a rush because you usually get put on the next flight out to your destination, a voucher for another flight in the future, and occasionally, money to cover the expense of your delay. If you are not in a hurry to reach your destination, you might not mind being bumped if they offer the right perks.
Can Airlines Bump Passengers Involuntarily?
If no one volunteers, the airline will have to bump some passengers involuntarily based on criteria set out on the contract of carriage. These criteria usually include:
- The cost of the ticket
- Check-in time
- Flyer status
If you have been involuntarily bumped from a flight, the airline now must 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 equaling 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, compensation of 400% of your one-way fare ($1,350 maximum).
Getting Hurt on an Airplane
When injuries occur on an airplane, the applicable laws are not always clear. As a result, it can be difficult to determine liability, what you can do, and what steps you need to take. While the contract of carriage may address the use of mediation or arbitration if there is a disagreement, there won’t be direct instructions on what to do if the airline or an employee act negligently and cause you to get hurt.
Most airplane injuries do not occur in crashes, although this could also support a claim or lawsuit. Instead, most happen during falls or other seemingly minor incidents during an otherwise routine flight. For example, imagine a flight attendant spilled hot coffee on you during a flight, and you required medical attention to manage your burns. You might have a right to hold the airline legally responsible for these costs.
If you have questions about injuries you suffered on an airplane or in an airport, discuss your options with a personal injury attorney familiar with this type of case.
How to Handle an Issue With an Airline
At the end of the day, domestic airline passengers have fewer rights than most people think. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if your flight is delayed or you get bumped. Check into your airline’s 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!
Do not be afraid to ask for compensation, including money for a hotel, meals, or more. If you get bumped from your flight, ask for a voucher for a future flight. If you were hurt, save all your bills and receipts related to your injuries and treatment.
Speak With Morris Bart, LLC, About Your Airline Injuries or Disputes
If you are in a dispute with an airline or suffered injuries on a plane and cannot get satisfactory compensation, the Morris Bart law firm may be able to help. We review cases for free. Talk to an attorney today about your rights and options.
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