Flyers’ Bill of Rights

When your air travel plans go awry — as they so often do these days — what are your rights? We’ve got answers.

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Updated

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Air travel can be stressful at times. When you have problems, it’s important to know you have legal rights.

Canceled or delayed flights

If you want a refund for a canceled flight

First, the most important right: If any airline cancels your flight for ANY reason, you’re entitled by law to a full refund of your ticket price, taxes, baggage fees, any extra charges and ancillary fees. Airlines and ticket agents must issue refunds promptly — if that’s what you want.

The “merchant of record” must issue the refund within seven business days if you paid by credit card and within 20 days if you paid by cash or check. The merchant of record — whether the airline or ticket agent — is determined by whatever company is listed on your credit card or bank statement. In 92% of cases, this is the airline, even if you booked through a third party, the DOT says.

If you want to rebook

If you learn your flight is canceled or will be significantly delayed or changed and you find a flight on another airline with available seats, you can ask the first airline to transfer your ticket to the second airline at no cost to you.

Airlines aren’t required to do this if the disruption wasn’t their fault, but many will if you ask nicely. A rebooking could save you a significant amount of money compared with buying a new ticket, because tickets often become more expensive closer to the departure date.

You have additional rights if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed for reasons within the airline’s control, such as staffing or equipment issues.
* Six of the 10 largest will rebook you on another airline at no charge.
* All 10 will provide a meal voucher.
* For cancellations that strand you overnight, nine of the 10 largest airlines will pay for hotels and ground transportation. You can’t count on the airline offering this to you unless you ask.

At the airport

Involuntary bumping

If you’re involuntarily bumped, airlines must provide you with a list of your rights and compensate you according to how long your flight will be delayed.

DELAY COMPENSATION

Less than 1 hour: None

1-2 hours (Domestic): 200% of your one-way fare up to $775

1-4 hours (International): 200% of your one-way fare up to $775

Over 2 hours (Domestic): 400% of your one-way fare up to $1,550

Over 4 hours (International) 400% of your one-way fare up to $1,550

The airline must offer payment the same day or, if you depart too quickly, within 24 hours.

Tarmac delays

Airlines have to provide medical attention and working bathrooms the entire time the plane is on the tarmac. After two hours, you must have food and water. After three hours, you must be in the air or back in the airport—or the airline faces massive fines.

Flight delays

If your flight is delayed more than 30 minutes, airlines must give you regular updates. 

The Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act defines a significant delay as a flight that arrives at its destination three hours more after the originally scheduled time for a domestic flight, or six hours or more after the originally scheduled time for an international flight.

Regardless of the cause of the delay, airlines and ticket agents must comply with issuing refunds for significantly delayed flights — if travelers want them — by Oct. 28, 2024. Travelers may instead choose a ticket for a rebooked flight if it’s offered.

You can’t get a refund if you take the delayed flight.

Post-flight problems

Delayed bags

If your bag is delayed overnight, most airlines set guidelines that allow their employees to reimburse you for necessities, such as toiletries or a change of clothes.

The new DOT rule requires refunds for baggage fees when checked bags arrive 12 hours or more late for domestic flights after a traveler’s flight arrives at the gate. For international flights, refunds are due if baggage arrives 15 to 30 hours late, depending on the length of the flight.

Airlines and ticket agents must comply with issuing refunds by Oct. 28, 2024.

Lost or damaged baggage

Airlines must refund any checked baggage fees, and reimburse you for the lost items up to $3,800. Wheelchairs, scooters and other “assistive devices” count as baggage, but they’re not subject to that liability limit. Whatever it costs is what you’re entitled to.

Complaints

Airlines are required to give you information on how to file complaints. Airlines need to acknowledge written complaints within 30 days and respond within 60 days.

If you don’t get satisfaction from an airline, file an official complaint with the FAA. To file a complaint against an airline, an airport or a ticket agent, go to
https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

For other information about passenger rights, go to https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer

Tips before you travel the next time

Read and then keep this guide handy every time you fly

Learn what additional protections you'll have under new laws

Rules on refunds, fees and more phase in starting in October 2024

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Read our analyses and recommendations
regarding the airline industry
going back to 2021

 

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