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.
First, the big one: 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. Airlines 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.
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. Airlines aren’t required to do this, but many will. This could save you a significant amount of money compared with getting a refund and buying the new ticket, because tickets often become more expensive closer to the departure date.
You also have legal rights if you are bumped from a flight that departs, if your baggage is misplaced or lost or if you’re stuck on the tarmac. See below.
Airlines often are accommodating when they cancel or delay a flight for a reason that’s their fault. The Department of Transportation last year launched a dashboard so travelers can see the policies of various airlines when they cancel or delay flights for reasons within the airline’s control. Many airlines rebook you, pay for hotels, meals, etc.
Before you go
Hedge your ticket purchase
Many airlines will hold tickets for 24 hours without payment, or will let you cancel your reservation and get a refund within that time frame, so you can make sure you get the best deal.
Check the flight's record
Major airlines are required by law to provide on-time performance information on their websites when you consider what flight to buy. Check these out to help avoid long delays.
Give yourself a buffer
If possible, plan to fly out a day before you actually need to be somewhere, particularly if you’re attending a wedding or going on a cruise.
Pay with a credit card, not a debit card
If you buy your plane ticket with a credit card, you have far greater protection to dispute the charge under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.
Fly in the morning
Schedule your flight as early in the day as possible. The DOT says you’re more likely to get where you’re going.
The later in the day you fly, the more chances there are for the airline to get off schedule. And if you have a late-night flight that’s cancelled, there may not be another one until the next morning.
Avoid connecting flights
This isn’t always possible, of course. But two flights mean two chances for a problem. And a delay on the first leg could mean you miss the second leg. The extra cost of a non-stop may save you a lot of stress and expense.
Avoid checking a bag
This also isn’t always possible. But having a carry-on reduces the chances of you getting separated from your bag.
Consider buying travel insurance
It won’t keep your flight from being cancelled but should help with other expenses. (But read the terms and conditions.)
Get the app
Get the airline’s app on your phone a couple of days before your flight. It can help you with notifications, rebooking and contacting customer service.
At the airport
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.
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
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.
If your flight is delayed more than 30 minutes, airlines must give you regular updates.
If your bag is delayed overnight, most airlines set guidelines that allow their employees to reimburse you for some emergency expenses.
Airlines must refund any checked baggage fees, and reimburse you for the lost items up to $3,800.
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://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm
For other information about passenger rights, go to https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer
The Southwest mess
Getting your money back
If your flight was canceled, you’re entitled by law to a refund of your ticket price, taxes, baggage fees, any extra charges and ancillary fees. If you haven’t received that yet, request a flight refund from Southwest https://www.southwest.com/traveldisruption/
In addition, Southwest says: “If you have been impacted by a flight cancellation or significant flight delay between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023, you may submit receipts for consideration … We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation.”
To fill out a claim and upload receipts, go to: https://support.southwest.com/email-us/s/?clk=TRAVEL-DISRUPTION-LP