A Guide to Rights for Airline Passengers

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When I was going home for spring break, my flight was delayed because of a mechanical problem.

The passengers were downgraded to a smaller plane and I was involuntarily bumped off the flight. I knew the airline was supposed to compensate me, but I had to force them to give me the compensation.

After forcing the person at the ticket counter to get me on a later flight, I did get a $300 voucher from the airline; the ticket voucher is good for a year.

Passengers are entitled to get some compensation for being involuntarily bumped off a flight. But many airlines passengers are unaware of the rights they have in this type of situation.

So if you’re ever caught in a similar situation as I was, here is some information that can give you the upper hand as an airline passenger.

The Department of Transportation requires airlines to give involuntarily bumped passengers a written statement that describes their rights. Passengers that are bumped off the flight are frequently entitled to monetary compensation; the amount depends on the price of their ticked and the length of the delay.

If you do get on a flight that arrives to your final destination (including later connections) within an hour of your original scheduled arrival time, you are not eligible to receive any compensation.

If you arrive between one to two hours after your scheduled arrival time (between one to four hours for international flights) at your destination, the airline must pay you an amount that is equal to a one-way fare to your final destination; the maximum amount is $400.

If you arrive at your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally) or if your airline doesn’t make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles; you get 200 percent of your fare and there is an $800 maximum.

You don’t have to take arrangements the airline makes for you; you can make your own arrangements and request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket on the flight you were bumped from.

If you get on a flight that is scheduled to leave the next day, the airline is supposed to arrange meals and hotel rooms for you. Instead of monetary compensation, airlines may offer free transportation on future flights; you can insist on the monetary compensation instead of the free flight.

There are a few conditions and exceptions on whether or not you get compensation. To be eligible for compensation, you must have a confirmed reservation. You also have to meet the airline’s deadline for buying your ticket.

Discount tickets have to be purchased a certain number of days after making the reservation. Other tickets have to be picked up no later than 30 minutes before the flight.

Each airline has a check-in deadline, and you should check to see what the check-in deadline is for your airline. Most carriers require you to be at the gate between 10 and 30 minutes before the scheduled departure; other deadlines can be as long as an hour or longer.

For international flights, check-in deadlines can be as much as three hours before your departure. If you miss the check-in deadline, you may have lost your reservation as well as your right to compensation.

People can find out more about their rights in a document entitled “Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel” on the Aviation Consumer Protection webpage. The link is http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm.

Francesca Crudo is a junior international studies major.

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