Lately, our newsfeeds have been covered with the news of airlines the past few months. Some of it has been good news where others have left us questioning airline policies. Especially when you read about people being turned away from flights for what they are wearing or being pulled off the plane by security when you are a paying customer. So what are the airline responsibilities if your flight gets canceled, or the flight is overbooked or even when your luggage gets lost?
Airline regulations for passenger flights are mostly enforced by the government; this keeps the rights the same across the board for all airlines. However, there is no regulation on what needs to be done when a flight has been canceled. It’s mostly handled in the contract between the passenger and the airline. It does appear that most airlines in their contracts will offer two different options to their passengers in the event a flight is canceled, 1) provide a seat on the next available flight to your destination or 2) a refund for the unused portion of the ticket.
Although the airline will provide a seat on the next available flight at no additional cost, this does not ensure that you will get the same seat that you previously purchased. If there is not a seat available in the class that was purchased most airlines will either move up a class with no additional cost to the passenger, or they might have to lower a passenger’s class with a refund of the difference.
According to the US Department of Transportation, it is legal for an airline to overbook a flight. Overbooking helps to compensate for people who do not show up for their flight know as a “no- show.” In the case of an overbooked flight, the airline is required to ask for volunteers to give up their seats with compensation before involuntarily removing people.
If there are not enough seats left on the flight after asking for volunteers, it is legal for an airline to deny a seat based on the criteria the airline has put in place and which has been agreed upon with the passenger when they booked the flight. The criteria are not set in place by the government regulations so the standards can vary from airline to airline. Some of the common criteria used are based on:
- Passenger check in time
- The fare paid by the passenger
- A passenger’s flyer status
The US Department of Transportation states that “the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.” For example, a passenger can not be denied a seat based on their race or ethnicity. A passenger who is involuntarily removed from the flight is required to receive a written notice explaining their rights and the criteria they use to when deciding who gets removed. They also can be compensated for the price of the ticket and for the length of time they are delayed before reaching their destination.
All airlines are required to compensate for any lost, damaged, or delayed baggage. The airline is responsible for paying for any damages done to the luggage, for any expenses a passenger incurs while waiting for delayed baggage, and reimbursing a passenger for the value of any belonging that has been lost. To be able to be refunded in any situation a passenger is required to file a claim with the airline and provide any documentation (such as receipts) to back up their claims and receive compensation.
Airlines are required to file any reports, even if the airline agent believes the airline is not liable. That includes, reports of mishandled baggage, complaints of damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles, and anything beyond normal wear and tear to the baggage.
If you still have a question about what an airline is legally responsible for you can always use Rocket Lawyer’s Ask a Lawyer feature.