Travel & Airline Service Contracts
Federal laws and international treaties control consumer protections related to air travel. There are no state laws governing air travel. There are also very few consumer protections in federal and international laws. Recent federal laws offer limited consumer protections in certain situations. When you book tickets, you should carefully read your “Contract of Carriage.” This document may include any extra consumer protections.
Lost, Damaged, & Delayed Luggage
If the airline loses or damages your luggage on a domestic flight, you may be able to recover for the loss. For delayed luggage, you can recover reasonable expenses of the delay. You can get up to $3,400 for domestic flights and more for international flights. There are time limits for filing your claim, so you should always file right away.
For damaged luggage, you can ask for replacement luggage or cost of repair. If the airline loses your luggage, you may be able to file a claim for all the items in the luggage; however, the airline will not compensate you in full for used items.
If the airline refuses your valid claim, file a complaint with the Department of Transportation (DOT). The government can fine the airline as much as $27,500 per incident.
Delays & Cancellations
Domestic airlines do not guarantee their flights will arrive as scheduled. They also reserve the right to cancel a flight. In general, airlines can delay or cancel flights without any consequences. They do not have to provide passengers with meals or hotel vouchers as compensation. The “Contract of Carriage,” however, may require the airline to give vouchers for cancelled flights. You should read this contract to know and understand your rights. International flights may offer consumers other protections and benefits.
There are new requirements for delays that occur on the tarmac after you have boarded the plane. You now have the right to be notified every 30 minutes about the status of the flight. You have the right to deplane if the airplane’s door can open. After two hours of delay, the airline must provide you with snacks and water. After three hours, the airline must allow you to get off the plane. For international flights, the airline can only keep you on the plane for four hours.
Overbooking & Bumping
Airlines have right to overbook flights. This means they can sell more tickets than there are seats available. As a result, the airline may bump you from the flight. When this happens, the airline may first ask for volunteers to change flights and may offer cash to do so. If the airline bumps you without your consent, it must immediately compensate you in the form of cash or a check. The amount of the compensation varies, depending on the length of your delay. For instance, for a one to four hour delay, the airline must pay you up to 200% of your one-way fare, up to $650. For delays over four hours, the airline must pay you 400% of your one-way fare, up to $1,300.
If the airline violates your rights, contact the Federal Department of Transportation (DOT). You may not sue the airline. If the DOT makes the airline pay a penalty for the violation, the airline does not pay the money to you. The airline pays the penalty to the government.
Legal Editors: Mark Grossman, Esq. and Edward E. Klein, Esq., May 2018
Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.