Magazine article USA TODAY

Navigating Your Air-Passenger Rights

Magazine article USA TODAY

Navigating Your Air-Passenger Rights

Article excerpt

Airline passenger rights differ greatly around the world. They are not dictated by citizenship, but geographic location traveled to and from. It therefore is advisable to brush up on them, particularly as the legal systems of some locations provide for generous compensation entitlements for travel disruption, the European Union being a prime example.

Air-passenger rights in the U.S. are far less favorable to consumers than those in the EU. The U.S. has not passed legislation requiring airlines to compensate passengers in the event of a delayed or canceled domestic flight. U.S. airlines simply must provide passengers with food and water and access to lavatories not later than two hours after the tarmac delay begins.

With a few exceptions, passengers in the U.S. are entitled to compensation where overbooking has led to them being denied boarding against their will. In line with what is considered common industry practice, airlines routinely overbook flights to account for no-shows and ensure the most efficient use of aircraft.

When an airline has overbooked a flight and too many passengers show up to board, a number of passengers will be asked to forfeit their seat. Those who agree to be bumped may receive vouchers for future travel, a hotel stay, or cash. Passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily, however, are entitled to compensation if the airline does not arrange for substitute transportation that gets them to their destination within an hour of their original scheduled arrival time.

If the substitute plane gets passengers to their intended destination one to two hours late on domestic flights, or one to four hours late on international flights, the airline must pay double the cost of the one-way fare, up to $650. If the delay exceeds two hours domestically, and four hours internationally, the compensation amount doubles, with a ceiling of $1,300.

In addition, if a passenger has paid in advance for optional services, such as checked bags or premium seats, the airline must refund these costs if they are not provided on the alternate flight.

Passengers are entitled to immediate payment in cash or form of a check (many airlines offer payment in tickets/vouchers). The following is a breakdown of compensation entitlements for involuntarily bumped passengers:

On domestic flights, zero to one-hour delay (no compensation); one- to two-hour delay (200% of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $650); more than a two-hour arrival delay (400% of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $1,300).

On international flights, zero to one-hour delay (no compensation); one- to four-hour delay (200% of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $650); more than a four-hour delay (400% of your one-way fare, up to a maximum of $ 1,300).

Air-passenger rights in the EU are more wide-ranging, and the compensation more generous. In addition to providing for compensation to passengers who have been involuntarily denied boarding, EU law covers a broader range of scenarios.

Under EU Regulation 261/2004, airlines are obligated to compensate customers in the event of delays, cancellations, or rerouting so long as the disruption is not due to extraordinary circumstances or reasons outside of the control of the airline. Such events would include industrial action, security risk, political or civil unrest, or extreme weather conditions. The regulation does not provide for extraordinary circumstance in the case of denied boarding.

Delays due to technical reasons are a gray area. While EU 261/2004 cites "hidden manufacturing defects" as an extraordinary circumstance, claims arising from delays due to other technical issues with an aircraft have been fought successfully by consumers in United Kingdom courts.

Even if cancellations are due to extraordinary circumstances, airlines still are obligated to provide travelers with care and assistance, including food, drinks, and hotel accommodation where appropriate. …

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