UPDATED. Airline passenger rights solutions are a hot topic among flyers. What are your solutions to solving airline problems with no U.S. Bill of Rights protecting you?
Airline Passenger Rights Solutions in the U.S. versus the World
So, how do you handle airline disputes with very little protection from a Bill of Rights or a lack of oversight from the U.S. Government? There have been many talks about introducing a Bill of Rights for U.S. flyers, but so far there has been no movement on that.
How to handle Airline Passenger Rights Disputes under U.S. rules
Step 1: Start at the gate
Try to resolve the issue with the gate agent on the spot. Work out an acceptable solution for you, if possible.
If you are not getting anywhere with the gate agent, ask to speak with the agent’s supervisor or manager. In addition to these agents, major airlines also have ground service coordinators trained to help passengers with solutions to different problems.
Step 2: Make a phone call to customer service
If you are not getting any results at the gate, try calling the airline’s toll-free customer service line. Be firm and request an immediate resolution to your issue. Again, escalate your inquiry to the supervisor level, if necessary.
Step 3: Proceed to your airline’s customer service counter
This step is only feasible if you have plenty of time before departure still, and if your airline has such a counter at your location. Customer service counters are often packed with passengers waiting in line. Arm yourself with lots of patience.
If you are unable to resolve the issue by this time you may find yourself with no choice but to leave the airport with your flight plan ruined. This is where you need to take your rights to the next level.
How U.S. airlines typically handle passenger complaints
It is important to have a basic understanding of how things typically work under U.S. airline passenger rights handling:
a) Contract of Carriage
The Contract of Carriage is the airline’s own policy for handling passenger rights. It’s an agreement between you and the airline covering how disputes are handled per that airline’s company policy.
You should find the Contract of Carriage on the airline’s website. Ask for a copy from the agent if you don’t find it online. The contract may provide a procedure or an answer to the handling of your issue.
The Contract of Carriage is based on the Warsaw Convention Rules. These rules were the first international set of rules to protect airline passengers. It was first created in 1929. The protections given to travelers by the Warsaw Convention were replaced in 1999 under the current Montreal Convention rules.
b) Typical airline passenger remedy: Travel vouchers
Make sure you read the fine print before accepting any travel voucher. Vouchers are often severely restricted for actual use and often end up never being used for that reason. A reroute on another plane or cash compensation on the spot is always king. Be persistent, but courteous to the agent. Agents are just doing their job.
c) If you purchased your ticket through a third party
This is often a big “gotcha” when you encounter issues with your flight. This is where dealing with your airline directly may get complicated. If you purchased your ticket through a third-party flight search engine the airlines often refer you to where you bought your ticket. Airlines will sometimes tell you to contact that flight search engine directly for a resolution.
Always purchase your airline tickets directly on the airline’s own website!
Step 4: Your last resort dealing with the airline or third-party ticket seller direct
Getting nowhere with your dispute while at the airport means you have to continue your fight after leaving the airport. You should now take your matters to a level that will solve your dispute to your satisfaction. Here are your options:
Step 5: Resources that could help you next
- Call the airline’s or third party’s ticket seller customer phone number listed on their website, even if you already did that while at the airport. Escalate your complaint higher up in the airline management ranks, if needed.
- Contact your travel agent, if you used one.
- File a claim directly with the airline. You should find directions in the airline’s Contract of Carriage online page.
- If you paid for your ticket with a credit card and your case involves a ticket refund entitlement: Simply file a dispute for a refund with your credit card company. If you are a member of your airline’s frequent flyer or loyalty program, then contact them.
- Contact your travel insurance provider for help, if you purchased travel insurance.
- Small Claims Court.
Step 6: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is your best friend
In the U.S. the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) is your closest ally in lieu of a Bill of Rights. The D.O.T. oversees that the airlines adhere to their strict D.O.T. passenger rights rules.
By the way, they typically do crack down hard on airlines violating the D.O.T. passenger rules. Potential fines into the millions of dollars per incident are not unheard of when an airline breaks federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) and D.O.T. rules.
The D.O.T.’s rules also cover how the airlines must handle monetary compensation.
- For example, you can make changes or even cancel that reservation within 24 hours if you booked your flight at least seven days in advance. The airline cannot charge you a high cancellation fee.
- If you are denied boarding, the airline must give you a refund, even if you bought a nonrefundable ticket.
You can access the D.O.T.s’ Aviation Consumer Protection website here. Their site explains your D.O.T. rights, as well as provides you with a link to their complaint submission form.
Foreign airline passenger rights solutions
Countries and airlines outside of the U.S. and Europe are most often extremely limited in giving you any airline passenger rights. However, every airline in the world should comply with the Contract of Carriage.
Flights between the U.S. and Europe
To learn if you have flight delay or cancellation compensation rights under the European Union (EU) Law please check your entitlements here. Remember, the rules under the European Union (EU) Regulation 261/04 may apply to you in the U.S. too!
Although a European carrier operates under EU rules they also become bound to D.O.T rules when their flights operate out of the U.S. U.S. carriers also come under this rule under certain conditions. Thus, if you have a problem with a European carrier on U.S. soil, or a U.S. carrier operating to Europe, the D.O.T. rules apply together with the EU rules.
Note on airline passenger rights solutions on UK flights since Brexit
Since the U.K’s Brexit, that country may exit from the EU’s airline passenger rights law. However, the UK provides its own resource guide to airline passenger rights here.
Your rights as a Canadian air passenger
What do you think about airline passenger rights in the U.S. versus the world? is the U.S. way overdue on a Bill of Rights? You can send your comments or questions here.
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