Flight delays, cancellations, overbooking, lost baggage… The list goes on and on. Flying by plane, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas, can be an absolute nightmare. A storm in Chicago or New York can throw off the itineraries of folks in Phoenix and Houston. If you are like the hundreds of thousands of other folks traveling by plane this Holiday season, you may consider some of your rights as an airline passenger before boarding up.
If your flight is delayed or canceled, the airlines do not have to compensate you in any way. Unfortunately, this is the reality of flying and consumers should plan around it. If you are flying to be at a funeral, Christmas, Thanksgiving, business meeting, or other non-delayable event, you should plan for delays or cancellations and fly early. Some airlines may be more hospitable than others and get you on a later flight or even on another airline, but you shouldn’t plan on them solving your problem.
Lost baggage is another area where flight passengers should take preventative measures. The Montreal Convention Treaty sets liability limits on lost baggage for international flights, while the Department of Transportation sets the liability limits for domestic travel. If you are flying with extra valuable items this holiday season, you may want to ask your airline for extra insurance on the bags containing those valuable items. Airlines will only honor claims once the baggage is determined permanently lost though, so don’t expect any compensation or service based on a delay.
Overbooking a flight commonly occurs around Thanksgiving and Christmas. This means that some passengers that bought a ticket for that flight will not be able to take that flight. If your flight is overbooked, you have certain rights depending on if you were voluntarily or involuntarily bumped from the flight.
IF YOU ARE VOLUNTARILY BUMPED FROM A FLIGHT:
- The Department of Transportation has not mandated that an airline give you a certain amount of (or any) compensation for volunteering to be bumped from a flight. If you volunteer, it is up to you to negotiate the price and conditions the airline must give you.
- The Department of Transportation MANDATES that if you volunteer to be bumped from your original flight onto another due to the flight being oversold, the airline MUST advise you if you might actually be involuntarily bumped anyway and how much compensation would be due if that were to happen.
IF YOU ARE INVOLUNTARILY BUMPED FROM A FLIGHT:
- DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't.
- 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 $650 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, $1300 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.
- Airlines may offer you airline vouchers or coupons, but you are entitled to a check if that is your preference.