Do you know your air travel rights? As you head to the airport, you assemble the mental obstacle course: bumped flights, excruciating delays on the tarmac while you learn that you paid triple your neighbor's ticket to be sandwiched in a middle seat while you worry about your lost luggage. They're the gifts that keep giving, with missed connecting flights, rocketing stress levels, and wasted time and money. If you find yourself amid an air travel debacle, wants you to know that you have some air travel rights that might yet save your trip, or at least save your wallet.

In this guide to air travel rights:
Can An Airline Change My Ticket Or Fees?
Can An Airline Bump Me To Another Flight?
Can I Get Compensated For Tarmac Delays?
What Happens If The Airline Loses My Luggage?

  1. Can An Airline Change My Ticket Or Fees?

    Every airline has different policies and rules. However, customers purchasing a ticket are entering into a contract with the airline and have a right to the airline's contract of carriage. Airlines must post their contracts on their websites, stating in writing the airline's procedures for handling passenger concerns like reservations, check-ins, refunds, delays and luggage, for example.

    As for your ticket, once you've purchased it, the airline cannot change any terms (like the price) to your disadvantage. The airline must also provide "conspicuous written notice" of any "incorporated" contract terms that restrict refunds or involve additional financial penalties or price changes. Even for international flights, airlines must maintain their tariff rules at airport and city offices.
  2. Can An Airline Bump Me To Another Flight?

    Airlines must seek out and offer compensation to passengers willing to accept a voluntary bump before bumping passengers involuntarily. If you're bumped involuntarily, you may receive:
    • Nothing if the carrier arranges alternate travel with an estimated time of arrival (ETA) within 1 hour of your original ETA.
    • 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $650 maximum if your new flight's ETA is within 2 hours of your original ETA.
    • 400% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $1300 maximum if your new flight's ETA is 2 hours or later than your original ETA for domestic flights and 4 hours for international ones.

    To be eligible, passengers must comply with airline check-in deadlines. Often that means being present at the boarding area an hour or more before domestic flights and 3 hours or more before international ones.

  3. Can I Get Compensated For Tarmac Delays?

    Once passengers have boarded, U.S. airline flights delayed on the tarmac must "provide passengers food and water no later than 2 hours after the tarmac delay begins." Lavatories must remain operable, and medical attention must be available for as long as the plane is on the tarmac. Tarmac delays are not to exceed 3 hours unless:
    • A safety or security reason makes the delay necessary.
    • Air traffic control advises that deplaning would "significantly disrupt airport operations."

    Airlines are not compelled by law to provide any compensation for delays, whether it's a tarmac issue or just general delays that rippled through the airport's departure and arrival schedule. Check your airline's contract of carriage before you fly so that you'll know what (if anything) you may be entitled to in compensation.

  4. What Happens If The Airline Loses My Luggage?

    If your luggage is damaged, delayed or lost, the airline must provide you with reasonable compensation for "provable consequential damages up to the amount of their liability limit." If the luggage is declared lost, the airline will reimburse you for the fair market value of the loss up to a figure that is adjusted every 2 years:
    • For domestic flights, the current limit is $3,500 per customer.
    • For international flights, the current limit is 1,131 SDRs (special drawing rights) per customer for checked and unchecked baggage; the SDR is an International Monetary Fund average of the euro, pound sterling, Japanese yen and U.S. dollar. Note that international limits apply to any domestic leg of an international flight even if you claim and recheck your bags.

    If your luggage is damaged, your carrier may choose to repair or replace it. If you're traveling with possessions that exceed standard compensation values, you may want to insure those items under separate coverage. In the meantime, airlines usually provide customers with payment to cover interim needs and expenses until they reunite you with your luggage.

While these basic air travel rights can help you get the help you need when airlines don't live up to their side of the bargain, getting additional travel insurance gives you additional financial protection if things don't go as planned.

Trip interruption/cancellation insurance, for example, let's you get reimbursed for the cost of a flight if something unexpected (sickness of you or a family member, a work emergency, etc.) forces you to cancel your trip.

Travel accident insurance pays out a large benefit if you are killed or permanently disable in an airline accident. The benefits paid out are typically up to $1 million, although you may get less in practice, especially if a lot of other people with the same travel insurance policy are killed or injured in the same accident.

You can also get additional baggage loss or delay insurance above and beyond the basic coverage granted under air travel rights. If the contents of your luggage are valuable, such as expensive clothing or other costly items, then getting extra coverage is a good idea.

It's also important to note that air travel rights vary from region to region, and the rights you enjoy in the U.S. may not be applicable outside of the U.S., which is why getting a travel insurance policy that covers you internationally is a good idea.

There are some credit cards that give you complimentary travel insurance coverage when you use them to pay for your travel bookings. Taking advantage of this coverage is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to insure your trip.

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