By Don Alvarez, Partner at Radix Law

Millions of travelers are expected to take to the skies this holiday season, each one undoubtedly hoping their trip will go smoothly from takeoff to landing. From weather delays to lost luggage, we all know things will inevitably go wrong for many of us.

The best thing you can do is be prepared and arm yourself with information about your rights as a passenger. The good news is, the U.S Department of Transportation has established very specific rights for air travelers.

Here are the main things to know before you head to the airport:

Delays and Cancellations:

  • Airlines are required to notify you of flight delays of more than 30 minutes, as well as flight cancellations and diversions within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of a change in flight status.
  • The flight status must be posted in the boarding gate area, on the carrier’s website, through an airlines flight status notification service, and via the carrier’s telephone reservation system upon inquiry by any person.

Lost or Damaged Luggage:

  • Airlines are required to compensate you for lost, delayed, or damaged bags.
  • If a passenger’s bag is delayed, airlines will pay reasonable expenses the passenger incurs while he or she waits for the delayed bag.
  • If a passenger’s bag is damaged because of rough handling, airlines will pay for the repairs or negotiate a settlement to pay the passenger the depreciated value.
  • If a passenger’s bag is lost, airlines will reimburse the passenger the depreciated value of his or her lost belongings (up to $3,500 domestic and $1,536 international).
  • Airlines are required to reimburse you for any fee charged to transport a bag if that bag is lost.

Overbooked Flights:

  • When a flight is overbooked, airlines are required to ask passengers to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation, before bumping anyone involuntarily. Airlines may offer passengers incentives, such as vouchers, to volunteer.
  • If there are not enough passengers who are willing to give up their seats voluntarily, an airline may deny you a seat on an aircraft based on criteria that it establishes, such as the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status. However, the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage. For example, an airline could not lawfully use a passenger’s race or ethnicity as a criterion.
  • 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 bumped.
  • Passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily are entitled to compensation that is based on the price of their ticket, the length of time that they are delayed in getting to their destination because of being denied boarding, and whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the United States.
  • For a passenger who is involuntarily bumped, if substitute/alternate transportation is provided which arrives 1-2 hours of original arrival time, the passenger is entitled to double the price of the ticket of the one-way fare up to $675. If the delay is more than 2 hours of the original arrival time, or if no substitute transportation is provided, the compensation is 4 times the ticket price up to $1,350 Airlines are free to offer more money than required to passengers involuntarily denied boarding.

Cost of Ticket & Fees:

  • Airlines are not allowed to increase the price of your ticket after it is purchased. They are also prohibited from increasing the price of a first or second checked or carry-on bag that is not paid for when the ticket is purchased.
  • Airlines must forward a credit to your credit card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application when a refund is due. For purchases made with cash or checks, airlines must provide a refund within 20 business days.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation:

About the Author

Don Alvarez is a Partner at Radix Law. He has over forty years of experience in law and practices primarily in civil litigation, including business and commercial litigation, and plaintiff’s personal injury and wrongful death. He also has extensive experience in litigating construction-related disputes for owners, general contractors, subcontractors and material suppliers.