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Airline Passengers’ Rights – What You Need To Know

by SharonKurheg

The vast majority of people flying on U.S.-based airlines have no idea of what their rights are as airline passengers. In fact, according to Air Help, about 90% of people who fly don’t know what is and isn’t due them when their flights are delayed or cancelled, when they’re bumped, their luggage is delayed or lost, etc. So in case it happens to you and the airline is less than helpful, here’s the Readers’ Digest Condensed Version:

(This post is not intended to be used as legal advice and is only up-to-date as of its writing)

If you’re involuntarily bumped because your flight is overbooked


These figures are based on U.S. Dep’t of Transportation law:

  • If you’re bumped from your domestic flight and you arrive more than 2 hours later than your original flight (or more than 4 hours later for international flights): you’re entitled to 400 percent of the one-way fare, but not to exceed $1,350.
  • If you’re bumped from your domestic flight and you arrive between 1 and 2 hours later than your original flight: you’re to be compensated 200 percent of the one-way fare, not to exceed $675.
  • If you’re bumped from an international flight and you arrive between 1 and 4 hours later than your original flight: you may be able to get compensated as much as 200 percent of your one-way fare, but not exceeding $675.

If you’re using a frequent flyer award ticket or a ticket issued by a consolidator, you’ll be compensated based on the lowest price charged for a ticket in the same class of service on the flight. You can also keep the original ticket and either use it on another flight or ask for an involuntary refund for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The airlines also must refund payments for services on the original flight, including seat selection and checked baggage.

If an airline loses, damages or delays your luggage



According to the U.S. Dep’t of Transportation, “airlines are required to “compensate passengers for reasonable expenses for loss, damage or delay in the carriage of passenger baggage.” There’s no set amount and each airline can interpret “reasonable” differently but when you have to factor in the price of toiletries and clothing, it’s expected to be more than just a couple of dollars. File a claim and keep your receipts for reimbursement!

If your luggage is permanently lost, you’ll have to file another report and the airline has to compensate you for the value of your luggage, up to $3,500. You might also want to go to this place to see if your bag somehow wound up there ;-).

If you’re stuck on the tarmac

According to the U.S. Dep’t of Transportation, you’re generally not allowed to stay on a tarmac for more than 3 hours. During that time frame, passengers must be given food and water no later than two hours after the delay begins, lavatories must remain operable, and medical attention must be available if needed.

However there are some exceptions to the 3-hour rule:

  • If the pilot feels there’s a safety or security reason for why the plane can’t go back to the gate and unload passengers.
  • If air traffic controllers think that moving the plane to a gate would significantly disrupt airport operations.

Flight delay or cancellation



Each airline has its own rules for reimbursement for flight delay or cancellation; they all have their own contract of carriage that outlines what they will or won’t do.

  • American Airlines – go down to “Delays, cancellations and diversions”
  • Delta Air Lines – Click on “Rule 19: Flight Delays/Cancellations”
  • JetBlue: Go to Page 4: “Changes, Cancellations and Refunds”
  • Southwest Airlines – Go to “Service Interruptions” (Page 37)
  • United Airlines – Click on “Rule 24 Flight Delays/Cancellations/Aircraft changes

For all other U.S. airlines, Google “contract of carriage” and the name of the airline.

NOTE: If you have a connecting flight and might miss it because of a delay with your original flight, this post might be able to give you some advice.

Changing a reservation

Each airline has its own rules regarding what you can and cannot do if they change your departure or arrival time, the route or the type of aircraft your plane will be:

  • American Airline – if your departure time changes by 60 minutes or more, or if your itinerary changes from a direct flight to a connecting flight, or if there’s an equipment change, you can change your ticket for no charge.
    If the change is 90 minutes or less, you can only switch to a flight in the same fare class as your original ticket on the same day, but you can change your connection if you want. For changes that are more than 90 minutes, or if they’ve added a stop to your flight that was previously a nonstop, you can change to any flight regardless of whether there’s space in the original fare class.
    If you’re moved from a direct flight to a connecting one, or if the schedule change is more than 60 minutes, you are eligible for a refund (note: sometimes the “refund” may actually be a voucher). But if the schedule change is 60 minutes or less, you can only change your ticket, as no refunds are allowed.
  • Delta Air Lines – if a Delta schedule or routing change delays your departure or arrival by more than one hour, you might be eligible to select a different flight at no additional charge. However your origin, destination and travel dates have to stay the same, alternate flights must be available, and you can only modify the itinerary once.
    You can request a refund if Delta’s schedule change results in no comparable flights being available within 90 minutes of the originally scheduled departure or arrival, if the change added one or more stops to the original itinerary, or if there’s a change in equipment from Delta mainline to a Delta Connections regional carrier.
  • United Airlines -if your scheduled departure or arrival time changes by 30 minutes or more,United will try to find other available flight options that meet your needs. But your origin and destination have to be the same as on your original itinerary, and alternative flights must be operated by United or United Express. If you have a connection, you may be able to choose a different connecting city or airport.If they can’t find any other flights that meet your needs, you can request a refund, but only if the scheduled departure or arrival time changed by two hours or more or the change “causes issues with the overall length of the trip, such as making the connection time too short or significantly longer than it originally was.”

For all other airlines, Google the name of the airline and CHANGES YOUR FLIGHT.

What about Europe?

Passengers flying to the EU on an EU airline, and all flights departing from the EU are covered by European law EC 261. It’s a law that favors the passengers and reimburses them much more fairly than under the same circumstances of domestic U.S. travel. EC 261 holds the airlines financially accountable when air travel takes an unexpected turn, as long as the disruption was not caused by circumstances outside of the airline’s control (read: you will never get reimbursed because of weather). Depending on your circumstances of your flight to/from Europe, you may be eligible for up to $700 per person in reimbursement. Click here for more information.

Who do I contact?

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If you need to file a claim or speak to an airline’s customer service, flight information or baggage claim representative, this list of phone numbers might help.

Some friendly advice – BE NICE when you talk to them! You’re probably frustrated and possibly angry, but the person you talk to on the phone had nothing to do with why or how your issue happened, so don’t take it out on him/her. Besides, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Good luck!

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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