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Know Your Rights: Airline Passenger Protections for Travelers

Know Your Rights: Airline Passenger Protections for Travelers

This weekend’s United fiasco has left many travelers worried about what they can expect when they are up in the air. Know your rights – the U.S. Department of Transportation has specific rules in place for passenger safety. Here are just a sampling of the regulations you should be aware of:

Lost Bags and Bag Fees. Airlines must refund passengers any fee for carrying a bag if the bag is lost.  Airlines this includes all segments of a trip, including code share partners. Airlines are also required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay in baggage, but these are often subject to caps. For additional support, travel insurance is usually suggested.

Full Disclosure of Additional Fees.  Beginning several years ago, airlines were required to disclose all fees on their websites. This includes, but is not limited to, baggages, meals, reservation changes and cancellations, and upgrades. There certainly may be extra fees, but they shouldn’t be hidden.

Bumping.  This issue is of particular interest to those following the United issue. According to the Department of Transportation:

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  • If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
  • If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum.
  • If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum).
  • If your ticket does not show a fare (for example, a frequent-flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator), your denied boarding compensation is based on the lowest cash, check or credit card payment charged for a ticket in the same class of service (e.g., coach, first class) on that flight.
  • You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.
  • If you paid for optional services on your original flight (e.g., seat selection, checked baggage) and you did not receive those services on your substitute flight or were required to pay a second time, the airline that bumped you must refund those payments to you.

Tarmac Delays. There is a four hour hard time limit on tarmac delays for international flights of U.S. and foreign airlines, with exceptions allowed only for safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons.   Carriers must also ensure that passengers stuck on the tarmac are provided adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.

Additional protections exist for passengers with disabilities, smoking and more. See the full list here.

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