Hopping on a Plane Soon? Make Sure You Know Your Rights.

by Chris Bjorklund

Like a lot of you, I haven’t gone anywhere on an airplane in a long, long time, but that’s about to change. With out-of-state trips planned for this month and next, I decided to read up on my rights in case I have to cancel a flight or get bumped or delayed.


First, I found that airlines are offering more options when you buy a ticket. The cheapest flights are nonrefundable, but for a little bit more money, you can change or postpone your flight at no extra charge. Check the airline’s policy and make sure you understand it before making a purchase. Some people opt for travel insurance, especially for expensive travel packages.


Second, you’re still entitled to compensation if your flight gets bumped. There’s no compensation if you’re bumped involuntarily and booked on another flight within an hour. For domestic flights, delays of one to two hours allow for a minimum of 200% of your original one-way fare or $775, whichever is less. After two hours, the compensation jumps to 400% of the one-way fare or $1,550, whichever is less. There are different guidelines for international flights.


Third, airlines will still pay you for damaged, delayed or lost baggage, but the compensation is somewhat negotiable. For example, they might reimburse you for emergency purchases if a bag is delayed. (You must be a squeaky wheel, notify the airline right away and save all your receipts.) If your bag is never recovered (most are found), you must document your loss. The liability limit is $3,800.


Fourth, when flights are delayed, you’re not guaranteed compensation, but you do have the right to food, water and bathroom access while on the tarmac for two hours or more.


Finally, every airline must allow you to cancel a flight booked directly with the carrier within 24 hours and get a full refund. You can’t be charged penalties/fees within that window.


The agency that regulates airlines is the U.S. Department of Transportation. Here’s a form you can fill out if you have a complaint about an airline.