2017 was the year where the rights of flyers were questioned especially when news broke out about airline staffs who manhandled a passenger out of a plane due to overbooking. While that wasn’t the most morally right thing to do by the airline staffs, it may be a surprise to hear that it may not be an unlawful thing to do.
What are the extent of our rights as flyers then?
Laws concerning the rights of flyers in the United States are governed by the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be many laws protecting the consumers, with the general guideline stating that a commercial airline can deny any passenger from boarding their planes for ANY reasons at all.
While there are also other laws that prevent these reasons from being discriminatory, this just means they can deny you from boarding just because your feet stinks. Therefore, make sure you keep your feet clean and smelling pleasant!
Dr. David Dao dragged off United Airlines flight
Image source: Evoke.ie
Focusing a little more on Dr Dao’s misfortunes on a United Airlines flight due to overbooking, while a good majority of people around the world has cried foul over the situation, the law actually legalised overbooking among American commercial airlines.
While that’s quite a drag, your rights as a flyer are still protected in these events. When a plane is overbooked and the airline has to bump some passengers off to a different flight, the airline is obligated to first ask if anyone is willing to depart the plane voluntarily, and they can offer incentives such as vouchers or money until an agreement is met between the airline and the customer.
Tips to negotiate with airlines
A good tip from us is while negotiating with the airline, make sure they clarify these few items:
1. When is the next flight which they can confirm your seat?
The next flight may sound acceptable, but you don’t want to be a victim of being bumped again. In case you’re wondering, the airline has the rights to keep bumping you if they see fit.
2. Will the airline be providing amenities for free such as food, a hotel room and transport between the hotel and the airport?
You don’t want to be spending your hard earned money for no good reason.
3. If offered a voucher, what are the terms and conditions?
Some vouchers will state that it can only be used during non-peak seasons or domestic flights.
If it comes to a situation where there are not enough passengers being bumped voluntarily, the airline has the right to begin bumping passengers involuntarily. To do so, the airline first have to clarify to all their passengers on what is the criteria that they are using to select who to bump. These criteria can range from ticket fare paid, passenger check-in time, passenger’s frequent flyer status and more.
However, discriminatory attributes such as race or religion is prohibited by law to be used as a criteria. The airline is also obligated to produce a written statement to the bumped passenger explaining their rights and the criteria used to bump them.
Meanwhile, there are a number of situations where you will not be compensated from being removed from your seat. These situations include:
- Being swapped from your current plane to a smaller one due to safety reasons.
- Having your seat downgraded, in which you will be only be refunded the price difference between your initial seat and the new one
- Being bumped off chartered flights or flights with less than thirty passengers on board.
If your scenario doesn’t fall within this list, you are entitled to a compensation as long as you have a confirmed reservation, checked in to your flight on time, arrived to the departure gate on time, and the airline cannot get you to your destination within one hour of the scheduled arrival time.
How much compensation can you get?
A good guideline on how much compensation you can get is that if you’re bumped off a domestic flight and experienced a delay between 1 to 2 hours or 1 to 4 hours for international flights, you can be compensated for double of the fare you paid, up to US$675.
For delays beyond that, you can be compensated four times the fare you paid, up to US$1,350. Airlines are required to pay you the compensation within the same day, or within 24 hours if they managed to get you on a flight before they pay you.
Apart from overbooked flights, the other thing about airlines that annoys us most is when flights gets delayed, for whatever reason.
Unfortunately, there are no US Federal Laws requiring airlines to compensate you for delayed domestic flights, though airlines might want to compensate you according to their terms. Meanwhile, the Montreal Convention Article 19 mandates airlines to compensate their passengers for any damages or loss caused by the delay of up to $5,500, unless the damages were beyond the control of the airline.
For flights to, from, or within the European Union, the EU Flight Compensation Regulation 261 guarantees a right to EU-based airline passengers to be compensated according to the length of their flights and duration of delay. Airlines globally are also obligated to announce the status of flights at least seven days before the flight, as well as any delays no later than 30 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure time.
While they are not legally obligated to do so, it doesn’t hurt to ask your airline if they are willing to pay for your fare if you find a different airline that flies to the same location that departs around the scheduled departure time of your initial flight. You can also ask if there are any other flights within the same airline that flies you to the same location that has extra available seats.
You have similar rights when your flight gets cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. You are entitled to be placed in the next available for free, and you can request to be transferred to a flight in a different airline if you could find one that has an earlier flight than the one you’re being bumped to. While it is not legally obligated, do ask your airlines if they will be offering compensations in terms of amenities such as free hotel stay until the next flight. Meanwhile, if you decide to cancel your trip due to the delay, you are entitled to a full refund of your fare price, including any bag fee or extra services you paid for, even if it’s supposedly non-refundable in their terms and conditions.
However, airlines are not liable for other expenses that falls out of the air fare that may be affected by the delay, such as prepaid hotel room, or tickets to a show you were planning to watch when you land.
Airport misfortunes aren’t just limited to when you are departing, but it can strike you even after you land. Nothing can get worse than seeing your dream destination right before your eyes, but you can’t leave the airport because your luggage is delayed, or worse, missing. Fortunately, US airlines are obligated to compensate you for any reasonable expenses incurred while waiting for your luggage if it’s delayed. For missing or broken luggages due to rough handling, airlines are required to compensate the depreciated value of the luggage and all that is lost. Airlines are required to accept all forms of reports concerning broken luggages, as long as the damage caused can be proven that it’s beyond normal wear and tear.
We sure hope that none of these will ever happen to you during your lifetime. However, misfortunes can happen to any of us at anytime, so it’s best to keep our pointers in mind whenever you fly!
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