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I’m just back from a fabulous ladies-only weekend in NYC. With fantastic food, wine and friends, the trip was exactly what the doctor ordered. I even fit in a high octane workout at the Peloton studio. (I’m still recovering)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, traveling without your kids (and sometimes your spouse) isn’t selfish. It’s self-preservation.

This week’s newsletter was originally a 50-point chart defending my argument with graphs, graphics in technicolor, quotes about “leaning in” and “living your best life,” and possibly a few cat memes….

Not anymore, thanks to United Airlines.

By now you’ve seen THE video. So, instead of extolling the virtue of a good friend-weekend, I thought I’d write about your rights as an airline passenger.

Sorry to say, it’s not good news. While things have improved regarding consumer rights, current regulations still favor the airline industry.  Below you’ll find some helpful information regarding some of the most common consumer complaints about flying. Remember, one of your “rights” is to stick up for yourself if treated poorly by the airlines. It’s also their right to call the cops, so think before you act.

Most of my information comes from the Department of Transportation, which has a surprisingly helpful (and somewhat humorous) list of tips and suggestions, like taking an earlier flight, “If the purpose of your trip is to close a potentially lucrative business deal…”

Thanks for the tip DOT!

Another idea: Book your trip through a travel advisor. We can’t prevent you from getting bumped, but we can help you find a new flight if/when things go awry

Let’s go!

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Airlines routinely overbook flights to ensure a full flight and maximum profits.  The number of seats sold on a particular flight is based on the no show rate, the number of seats on the plane that can be used by passengers, and the number of seats the airline is allowed to sell.  Meaning, having a ticket doesn’t guarantee a seat

If everyone with a ticket shows up, someone will have to go. (BTW, that someone is usually the person sitting in that super cheap bargain seat purchased online).

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know if you’ll get bumped.  However, some airlines are notorious bumpers, including Delta, United, and Southwest. The good news, involuntary bumping is rare. In most cases, someone will accept the airlines offer for compensation to forfeit a seat.

Of course, if no one takes the cash (like the United flight), you’ll have.…

Involuntary Bumps

If you’re involuntarily bumped and don’t fly, you’re entitled to compensation.  Real compensation, as in money, not vouchers or frequent flyer miles. The amount you receive depends on the length of the delay.

If you arrive:

  • Within one hour of your original arrival time, you get zero dollars.
  • 1-2 hours after the original arrival time (on domestic flights) and 1 – 4 hour on international flights you are entitled to an amount equal to 200% of your one-way ticket up to $675 and a full refund of your confirmed reservation.
  • More than 2 hours late on a domestic flight or 4 hours on an international flight (without a substitute flight) the airline must pay you 400% of your one-way fare up to $1,350 and a full refund of your confirmed reservation.

Delays and Cancellations

Canceled flights, substantial delays, or rescheduled flights are much more common than a bump. If you experience any of the above, you have the right to reroute at no cost or receive a full refund. Although, not all “substantial delays” are equal and the definition depends on the carrier. This would be a good time to read the fine print on your ticket. 

Sitting on the Tarmac

We’ve all read the horror stories; passengers stuck on the tarmac for hours without food, water, or bathroom facilities. DOT limits the amount of time an airline may keep passengers on a grounded plane to 3 hours on domestic flights and 4 hours for international flights. Unfortunately, you won’t receive compensation for this convenience, but DOT will fine an airline for exceeding that limit.

Lost Luggage

Airlines will reimburse you up to $3,500 for lost luggage if you can document the items in the bag. Most of us don’t have receipts for clothes we’ve worn, so consider taking some pictures of the items in your bag before you leave (or to be super safe, make a list). Don’t forget to hold onto to your baggage claim, boarding passes and lost luggage report.

Frequent Flyer Programs

Airlines have the right to change their frequent passenger program at any time and will little notice.  You’ve been warned.

The airline industry is probably the only industry where the customer isn’t always right.  If you run into trouble and want to complain give DOT a call at 202-366-2220.

Good luck out there.