When a passenger purchases a ticket, that passenger is agreeing to the chosen airline’s contract of carriage. Airline passenger rights are not something most people think of very often, but travelers should know at least a little about them.
You can find each airline’s terms and conditions on their website. (If you’re traveling internationally, the terms of the Montreal Convention apply.) The various airlines may differ somewhat, but they generally follow the same themes. Here are a few points to consider:
Airlines can cancel tickets if a passenger is erroneously quoted the wrong fare. Airlines try to avoid this, but technical issues happen, so use common sense. If a fare seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consider the source.
The schedule is not guaranteed. Flight times often change, and stopovers may be altered or eliminated. The type of aircraft may change, thus affecting the seating and capacity. Check the schedule a few days before your departure. And, when scheduling, give yourself plenty of time between flights if you’re making a connection.
The airlines can and do oversell flights. It’s perfectly legal, and airlines do it to account for no-shows and passengers who make last minute changes. The Department of Transportation requires the airline to first ask for volunteers with compensation. But, if no one jumps on the offer, passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily. Although, as we all now know, they cannot do it using physical violence.
The DOT requires any passenger who is bumped involuntarily to be given a written statement of his or her airline passenger rights. Who gets denied is based on a litany of factors, including the amount paid for the ticket and frequent flier status with the airline. If you’re denied boarding involuntarily, you’re entitled to compensation as specified in the contract of carriage. For American, the amount of that compensation depends on just how late you are getting to your destination.
For a “force majeure” event, an airline can cancel the flight and will owe only a refund of the amount paid. Force Majeure is a defined term with airlines, but the examples are far reaching and include things like labor disputes, shortages of fuel or personnel, and other things out of the airline’s control. There are no federal rules on what an airline must do for delayed passengers, and the policies differ. If you find yourself in this situation, ask what the airline will cover.
Finally, if you want a good fare, be flexible on when you travel, plan ahead, and watch out for the add-on costs for things like baggage.
Keep these things in mind as you travel. And know the airline’s policies and your airline passenger rights before you travel. It may save you a lot of headache in the long run.