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Air Passengers Do Have Rights, But They May Have to Fight for Them

Air passengers do have rights when their flights are canceled or they get bumped.

| BY Kent McDill

Once considered a luxurious mode of transportation, air travel has gotten more problematic over the years, and a problem-free round trip is rarely experienced.

While a traveler might feel like throwing his hands in the air when problems occur, it is important to know that air passengers do have rights, although they are dependent on what problems occur and what causes the problems to occur.

From the Department of Transportation, Yahoo! Travel, and,  what follows is a list of air passenger rights, including some special consideration for international travel:

The price you see is the price you pay: Airlines are required to display the full cost of a ticket, including all fees and taxes, at the time the purchase is made. This is also true for all travel agencies.

Getting bumped: If you are bumped from a domestic flight due to overbooking, but the airline can get you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival, there is no compensation. If you are going to be more than one hour late to your destination, compensation kicks in.

If your airline can arrange to get you to your destination between one and two hours of your scheduled arrival time (or between one and four hours on an international flight), the airline owes you 200 percent of the one-way fare to your destination up to $650. If your arrival is more than two hours late (or four hours international), the airline owes you 400 percent of your fare up to $1,300. If you are sent to another airline, the original airline must cover all expenses involved with the new ticket.

You also get to keep your original ticket, which you can use for a future trip or get refunded.

These numbers are important to know because the airline will offer lower compensation prior to takeoff, as well as cash for meals, in hopes of avoiding the larger compensation fees.  If you wait them out, your compensation is greater. You have to be patient, and your eventual arrival will be pushed back farther as other passengers get placed on the next flight out before you do. Only approximately 10 percent of “bumped’’ passengers get the full compensation.

These compensation rules also apply to zero fare tickets, including tickets acquired with frequent flyer points. They do not apply, however, to bumping that occurs when an airline switches to a smaller plane. They also do not apply to delayed or cancelled flights.

Canceled, delayed or rescheduled flights: You have the right to be rerouted at no extra cost, or to receive a full refund, even on a non-refundable flight. However, airline policies vary on what constitutes a significant delay or schedule change. Unfortunately, the rules are included in the airline’s standard contract language that is rarely read by passengers.

In most cases, airlines are required to provide meal vouchers when the delay extends over a normal meal time, and hotel accommodations in the delay turns into an overnight event. But those rights may require some arguing, as implementation varies depending on airline as well.

Airlines may offer to transfer you to another airline, or offer a seat on their next available flight, but those decisions are theirs.

Tarmac time: Is there anything worse than having your flight pull out of the gate, then sits on the tarmac for a lengthy period waiting for permission to fly? The Department of Transportation has mandated that an airline may not keep you on a plane for more than three hours on a domestic flight or four hours on an international flight without allowing you to get off if you wish, unless there is security or safety issues. Airlines are required to provide food and water after two hours of delay, provide 30-minute updates and make sure the lavatories are operable.

Unfortunately, if those rules are violated, the airline gets fined by the DOT, and there is no passenger compensation.

A full list of DOT compensation rules can be found at

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.