Local News

Don't Delay! Know Your Rights As An Airline Passenger

Posted April 9, 2001 3:42 a.m. EDT

— Just about everyone who has ever flown has experienced airport delays and/or cancellations.

What a lot of airline passengers do not realize is that when you are stranded, you do have legal rights. Those rights are spelled out on many airlines' Web sites under what is called the "contract of carriage."

The contracts are filled with legal terms, and each airline's contract of carriage is a little different.

Consumer Reportssays with all of them, your rights depend on why the flight is delayed.

"The airline is at fault when it's a mechanical problem with the plane, when it's overbooked, when there are crew problems. In those cases, [the airlines] have a higher level of responsibility," says Bill McGee ofConsumer Reports.

For example,Northwest Airlinessays it will "transport the passenger on its next flight on which space is available." In some circumstances, Northwest "provides hotel accommodations."

Plenty of delays, including bad weather and even labor slowdowns, are considered outside the airline's control. In those cases, the airline is only responsible for refunding the part of the ticket you have not used.

Consumer Reportssays sometimes you can get them to do more.

"I got transportation and a meal and a night's stay in a hotel. And I got it because I asked courteously, but firmly," says McGee.

Consumer Reportssays it is important to know your rights under the contract of carriage.

You can get a copy by writing the airline's customer service department or from the airline's Web site. If your flight is delayed, speak up. If you wait for the airline to help you, you could be waiting a long time.

If your flightisever delayed,Consumer Reports offers this advice:

  • Find out the reason for the delay, either by talking to the customer service representative at the airport or by calling the airline.
  • Find out yourself what other flights are available, both on your airline and on other airlines. Ask to be rebooked.
  • If you are stuck, ask your airline for help finding a hotel.

    Copyright ©2001 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. All rights reserved.

    Reporter:Monica Laliberte