A group of people is preparing to get off of their plane ride
Before your next trip, brush up on your air passenger rights regarding compensations about flight overbooking, delays, cancellations, and more.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / chameleonseye

These Are Your Rights When Your Flight Gets Canceled, Delayed or Overbooked

Know What You’re Owed

If something goes wrong on your flight, what rights can you claim as an air passenger? Let’s look into some of the important things you should know about your airline passenger rights when you fly.

Flight Overbooking Compensation

The incident that happened with United Airlines last year was a result of overbooking, in which a passenger was dragged off the plane by authorities after refusing to give up the seat he had paid for. Although this type of incident isn’t that common, it is standard practice for airlines to overbook so they can compensate for passengers who don’t show up.

Unfortunately, it is perfectly legal for airlines to overbook flights. So what are your flyers rights?

  • The US Department of Transportation requires airlines seek out volunteers before bumping anyone. You may be offered rewards such as cash or free travel vouchers, so if you are able to reschedule your trip and leave tomorrow this might be an okay deal for you.
  • According to the Department of Transportation, you should be given a written statement that describes your rights and what flight compensation the airline is offering you.
  • It’s better to get offered cash than a flight voucher, but if you do get offered a voucher make sure it has a long enough life to make it useful for your travels in the future.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for extras such as a free hotel for the night, meal vouchers and more — especially if the delay will require you to stay overnight.
  • If the airline can place you on another flight that will make it to your destination within an hour of the originally scheduled time, you won’t be compensated.
  • If your flight can get you there between one to two hours of your original scheduled time of arrival on any domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international flight, you will be entitled to 200% of the one way fare to that destination, with a cap of $650.
  • If your domestic flight gets you there more than two hours later, you will be entitled to 400% of your one way fare, with a cap of $1,300. If you are flying international, you are entitled to the same if your flight reaches the destination more than four hours late.

Flight Delay Compensation

The Department of Transportation expanded the rights of passengers in 2011, adding rules such as how airlines should handle tarmac delays and how long the airline is allowed to keep passengers in the airplane during a delayed flight before they can have passengers disembark from the plane.

For example, the DOT mandates that they cannot keep you on the plane for more than three hours if you are just sitting on the tarmac. They must also provide food and water after two hours of delay, provide updates every 30 minutes and ensure that the plane bathrooms are functioning.

Check out the DOT Fly Rights guide for more info on this.

Instead of stewing about the lost time, try these productive things to do during a flight delay to keep both your boredom and irritation at bay!

If your flight is canceled or delayed, you have the right to be rerouted on another flight at no extra cost or to receive a full refund — even if you had purchased a non-refundable ticket. You might also be eligible for meal vouchers or hotel stays if the delay happens over night.

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Compensation for Flight Cancellation

Sometimes a flight needs to be canceled, perhaps due to mechanical issues, bad weather or other issues. If your flight is canceled, most airlines will book you onto another flight to your destination at no additional charge if there is space available.

However, each airline has its own policies on what they will do in this situation and there are no federal requirements.

Unfortunately, for domestic travel the airline is not required to compensate passengers whose flights have been canceled — only when you are bumped from an oversold flight. However, you may be able to recover compensation under Article 19 of the Montreal Convention for expenses that result from a canceled flight if you file a claim with the airline.

If the delay is the airline’s fault, such as a mechanical delay, then your carrier might offer you some sort of compensation. Stay calm and make your complaints.

Here are some tips for effectively complaining to an airline.

Other Things You Should Know as a Passenger

What are some of the other things that you should know about your rights as an airline passenger?

  • If you are bumped from a flight on which you paid to receive extra services such as seat selection and extra checked baggage and you do not receive those services on the substitute flight, the airline must refund those payments to you.
  • Make sure you always check-in to your flight before the check-in deadline, which can be as much as three hours before the scheduled departure time on an international flight. If you don’t, you could lose your right to compensation if the flight is oversold.
  • If you are flying internationally between two foreign cities, such as Paris and London, the rules of the DOT do not apply. Instead, you will be under the rules of the European commission.

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