Most people go through countless flights in an endless cycle of flight booking, flying, landing and going home. When there are delays or discrimination or other inconveniences due to acts of omission and commission by the airlines or the airports, most passengers just grin and bear it. They are often not aware that as air passengers, they are entitled to several rights. Depending on the country, there might be differences in the rights available. Let us look at the air passenger rights that are available to air passengers in the US.
Many people have a fixed airline which they always use whenever or wherever they fly. But if you are trying to decide among several options, you are entitled to ask the airlines to provide you with complete data about their on-time performance data. That will tell you which of those airlines have a better record of punctuality.
Many major carriers have tie-ups with smaller commuter airlines for covering the smaller cities where they might not have their own flights. While the ticket might be sold under the name and style of the major carrier, the actual flight would belong to the smaller airline. These arrangements are called code sharing. In case the name and details of the smaller airline are not evident from your ticket, the Department of Transportation (DOT) mandates that this information should be made available to you, and you are within your rights to demand it.
In case the ticket has been purchased using a credit card, and then there is a cancellation later, then there are certain flight cancellation guidelines for the refund time as well. It is mandatory that the concerned carrier should credit the refund amount to your credit card within 7 working days.
There are several guidelines governing the cancellations of flights. There are some delays or cancellations which are not under the control of the airline. Additionally, some of the delays could be due to the airline initially, but later there could be ‘creeping delays’ due to other delays by others. You are entitled to partial or full refunds due to any such delays or cancellations. But some airlines also make an attempt to book you on an alternative flight of their own or of another airline with no additional charge.
There are further details involved for delayed flights. It is obvious that you would incur some expenses due to the delay. For example, you would need to eat extra meals, or you might need to make phone calls. You are within your rights to ask airlines which of these extra expenses they would bear or refund. Usually, these would be provided only by airlines operating international flights to the US or outward international flights to India and other countries. Domestic airlines usually do not compensate these costs.
Just like delays and cancellations, another area which often results in a lot of heartburn and demands for refunds or even damages is overbooking. Almost all airlines accept more bookings than the number of available seats on every flight. This is done in order to balance out last minute cancellations or no-shows. But in case a particular flight doesn’t have enough passenger cancellations or no-shows, then some passengers need to be ‘bumped’ or taken off the flight. Every airline has its own order of decreasing priority in which travelers are bumped. Some airlines bump off the lowest fare travelers first. Other airlines bump off travelers on the basis of who arrived last for check-in. The department of transportation has very clear guidelines regarding this process.
As per the DOT guidelines, when such a situation arises, the airline is supposed to first ask those customers who can afford to go on a later flight. When such travelers are willing to travel on a later flight, it is called voluntary bumping. People who volunteer to be bumped are provided compensation and a confirmed booking on a later flight. Additionally, voluntarily bumped passengers would also be provided free meals, hotel stay (if required), hotel-airport transfers and sometimes also cards to make phone calls. All of these are negotiable since there are no standard guidelines laid down.
Read this blog about the Compensation guidelines for the delayed flights from the USA
If the traveler is not given any choice in the matter of being bumped, it is called an involuntary bumping. In this case, there are standard procedures to be followed. If the alternative flight provided brings you to your destination within an hour of the scheduled arrival time of the flight you were bumped from, then there is no compensation you are eligible for. If the final arrival time is up to two hours (or four hours, for international flights) of the scheduled arrival time of the earlier flight, then you would be compensated 200% of your one-way fare. Any delay more than that would get you a compensation of 400% of the original fare. In case the earlier ticket has some additional services paid for which were not available or not utilized on the substitute flight, then that amount must be refunded in full.
You should be aware of the terms and conditions of the above refunds. The original ticket must have been a confirmed ticket. Also, you should have presented yourself for check-in within the scheduled time, only then would you be considered as an involuntarily bumped traveler and not a no-show.
Travelers must also be aware of their rights with respect to their baggage. Once a missing or lost baggage is reported, all the details of the baggage are submitted. The claim details are forwarded to the concerned department of the airline. The situation is more complicated if there were two parts of the journey. While booking the ticket, the extent of the airline’s liability is clearly specified. The traveler is eligible for damages only up to that extent.
If a traveler has any kind of disability, there are a whole set of guidelines laid down regarding the services and facilities he or she would be eligible for.
These were some of the rights that are due to US air passengers for domestic and international travel.