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Know Your Air Passenger Rights
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People often fly because of the ready availability of cheap travel deals, such as cheap airplane tickets, discount hotel rooms, cheap auto rentals, discount travel deals, and cheap vacation packages. When faced with air travel snafus such as delayed or canceled flights or overbooked planes it is useful to know your rights.
The United States and the European Economic Community (EEC) have laid out very detailed rights for air travelers. The following is a summary of basic air passenger rights in the U.S. and Europe:
• The EEC and the U.S. require airlines to display the full cost of an airline ticket, including all mandatory airline charges, governmental taxes, and user fees online and in any other advertising.
• In the U.S. when an airline involuntarily bumps you due to overbooking you are not due compensation if the airline can get you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival. If you reach your destination between one to two hours of your scheduled arrival on a domestic flight, or between one to four hours on an international flight, it owes you compensation of 200 percent of the one way price to your destination, up to $650. If the delay exceeds these parameters it owes you 400 percent, up to $1,300.
• If your airline decides to place your on an alternate flight on another airline, it must cover all the expenses involved with the new flight. Regardless, you get to retain your original ticket, which can be used for a later trip or be refunded. These rules also apply to tickets purchased using frequent flier mileage. Airline’s check in and gate arrival deadlines must be satisfied to qualify for any compensation.
• If your flight is canceled, experiences significant delay, or is rescheduled, you have the right to be rerouted at no additional cost or receive a full refund, even on a nonrefundable ticket. Airline contracts generally call for meal vouchers to be distributed when a delay extends over a normal meal time and for free hotel accommodations if there is an overnight delay unless the delay is due to forces of nature outside the airline’s control. Implementation varies by airline.
• The Department of Transportation has mandated that an airline may not keep passengers sitting on a runway on a plane for over three hours on a domestic flight or four hours on an international flight without allowing passengers who wish to deplane, subject to security and safety considerations. Airlines are required to provide food and water after two hours of delay, provide passenger updates every 30 minutes, and make certain that airplane bathrooms are operable. In the event of a violation, airlines are fined, but passengers receive no compensation.
• In the EEC if an airline is unable to get you to your final destination within three hours of your scheduled arrival passengers receive 250 Euros on flights of 1,500 km or less, 400 Euros on flights over 1,500 km within the EEC or on flights of 1,500 to 3,000 km outside the EEC, and 600 Euros for passengers on all flights of 3,501 km or more outside the EEC. All flights from the EEC to North America are over 3,500 km (2,175 miles).
• If you are bumped, airlines must provide meals and refreshments, hotel accommodations where a stay of one or more nights is needed, and transport.
EEC studies have found many instances where airlines did not inform travelers as to their rights to compensation or offer compensation outright, as well as sometimes dragging their heels on legitimate claims. Often only the “squeaky wheel” gets treated properly. You must be persistent to ensure your rights are protected.
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