Before flying this holiday season, know your rights
- Last Updated: 12:17 AM, December 13, 2011
- Posted: 2:37 PM, December 12, 2011
There's the Bill of Rights. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But what about your “rights” when you fly? Do you have any, really? You may be surprised to learn that even though the Department of Transportation has recently announced some new passenger regulations, there are probably fewer than you think, and your rights vary depending on the country you’re flying within or from. Before you head off to Grandma’s house — or wherever — this holiday season, let’s do a quick rundown of your options, shall we?
The airline sells more fares than it has seats on your flight. Someone’s got to stay behind, and that someone is you. You might be entitled to cash compensation. If you’re bumped from a flight and the airline rebooks you to arrive an hour or less from your original arrival time, there’s no compensation. Two to four hours, you are entitled to as much as $650 (the actual amount will be up to 200 percent of the applicable one-way fare); over four hours, up to $1,300 or 400 percent of the one-way fare. You’re entitled to receive payment in cash. Do not accept a travel voucher since these often come with restrictions and extra hassle. Take our advice — tell them it’s money or nothing.
You’re stuck on the plane for more than three hours before take off or upon landing. You have the right to request to deplane after your domestic flight has been delayed on the taxiway (a.k.a., the “tarmac”) or runway for more than three hours; or four hours if it’s an international flight. This doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get off the plane — there are loopholes — but it never hurts to make the demand.
A cancellation or delay means you’re missing what you were flying to attend (i.e. a funeral, Christmas Day) in the first place. Why go on a pointless trip? Most airlines’ contracts of carriage — you can access all of these at www.airfarewatchdog.com, by the way — contain a provision that allows even those flying on non-refundable tickets to drop out and get their money and fees back. Delta, for example, stipulates in its contract that “in the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket.” Most airlines have a “Rule 260” or similar in their contracts covering this situation.
Your flight is canceled. Now what? Here’s a surprise for many people — there’s no one hard-and-fast government regulation covering this instance anymore. The old days of Rule 240 are just that — the old days. It’s still practiced by some airlines, but it’s not rule of law. Yelling at an airline representative to get you hotels and meals won’t get you anywhere — unless the airline’s specific contract states that they give out such things. Many airlines will attempt to get you out of their hair on the next available flight, even on a competing airline, but not always. For example, Delta says it will “exercise reasonable efforts to carry passengers and their baggage according to Delta’s published schedules and the schedule reflected on the passenger’s ticket, but published schedules, flight times, aircraft type, seat assignments, and similar details reflected in the ticket or Delta’s published schedules are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract.” In essence — don’t count on anything.