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

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RALEIGH — Just abouteveryone who has ever flown has experiencedairport delays and/or cancellations.

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

The contracts are filled with legal terms, and eachairline'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 withthe plane, when it's overbooked, when thereare crew problems. In those cases, [the airlines] have ahigher level of responsibility," says Bill McGee ofConsumerReports.

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

Plenty of delays, including bad weather andeven labor slowdowns, are considered outside theairline's control.In those cases, the airline is onlyresponsible for refunding the part of the ticket youhave 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 gotit because I asked courteously, but firmly," says McGee.

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

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

If your flightisever delayed,Consumer Reportsoffers this advice:

  • Find out the reason for the delay, either by talkingto the customer service representative at theairport or by calling the airline.
  • Find out yourself what other flights areavailable, both on your airline and on otherairlines. Ask to be rebooked.
  • If you are stuck, ask your airline for helpfinding a hotel.
  • Copyright ©2001 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. All rights reserved.

    Reporter:Monica Laliberte