It’s peak travel season which means there is more that can go wrong. If your travel plans are interrupted, it’s important to know your traveler’s rights.
You wait all year for your vacation and you want things to go smoothly. But they don’t always. If you know what you are entitled to and how to get it before something goes wrong it can save you time, anger and frustration.
Long gone are the days when air travel was elegant and enjoyable. Now your Fourth Amendment rights are violated in the name of security theater, you’re nickel and dimed for every little thing and shoved into a speeding metal tube with hundreds of yammering wankers. And that’s if things go well! But a lot can go wrong between arriving at the departing airport and arriving and the destination airport.
In order to maximize revenue airlines will often deliberately overbook a flight assuming that there will be a few last minute cancellations and no shows. Because many airlines are reducing the number of flights on certain routes, your odds of getting bumped are higher than ever.
There are a couple of things you can do to reduce your chances of being bumped. When you buy your ticket, choose your seat if the option is available. Most airlines allow you to check in on-line up to 24 hours in advance of your flight. If you have this option, take it.
If you do get bumped, you have certain rights. If the airline arranges an alternative flight that gets you to your destination within an hour of the original time, you aren’t entitled to compensation.
If the airline gets you there within one to two hours, one to four for an international flight, the must pay you 200% of your one way fare with a maximum of $650. If they can book you to arrive within two hours, four international, you are entitled to 400% of your one way fare with a maximum of $1,300.
The airline may offer you a voucher for a free or discounted future flight but it is your right to insist on a check for the amount due you.
Always check that your flight is still on-time before you leave to the airport. It’s easier and less aggravating to re-book a flight from the comfort of your home or hotel room than at the airport with hundreds of other angry people.
If it’s too late for that, use Twitter to communicate with your airline. It’s often faster to get a response this way than on the phone or waiting in line at the courtesy desk. If you are in the US and need to re-book a flight, call an international office of your airline. They are not getting the same deluge of calls as the office in the country with the delayed flight and you can almost always get an English speaker on the line if that’s all you speak. If you’re outside of the US, do the opposite and call the US office.
Compensation for delays are not regulated, they are at the discretion of each airline. So legally, the airline doesn’t have to give you squat. This is a “more flies with honey” situation. If you are calm and polite when dealing with the airline employee who can give you some form of compensation, not to mention help re-booking, they will be more accommodating.
Tarmac delays do have set rules. After several high profile incidents of passengers being held against their will for hours on the tarmac with no food, water, or bathrooms in some cases, including a Jet Blue flight that sat at JFK for eleven hours, Congress mandated rights for passengers held on planes.
On a side note, are we really so docile now that a few hundred of us will just sit hostage on a plane for half a day with no food, water, or bathroom and not mutiny? I would at least have faked a heart attack to get off or taken a leaf from Steven Slater’s book and deployed the chute, helped myself to a beer and slid to freedom.
Under the new rules, passengers can only be held on the plane for three hours or less. The airline must also provide adequate food and water for the first two hours of the delay. There are exceptions to this. You can be held for more than three hours if there would be a risk to passenger safety or if airport operations would face major disruption if the plane returned to the gate.
We all have it, some of us have more than others. Some of us are checkers and some are carry-on-ers. If you’re a checker there is a risk the airline will lose your bag. If your bag is not on the carousel, file a claim before you leave the airport.
If the bag is delayed most airlines will give or allow you a stipend to replace essential items. Some will give you vouchers and some will reimburse you, so be sure to keep any receipts. Once the bag is recovered, it will be delivered to you, you don’t have to return to the airport to pick it up. It’s always a good idea to pack one change of clothes in your hand luggage so you’ll at least have one clean outfit.
If the bag is indeed lost, you are entitled to up to $3,400 per bag. It can be hard to prove what you had packed after the fact so take pictures of your open suitcase before you leave on your trip. This will help prove what was lost.
Thanks to sites like TripAdvisor, it’s easier to know what to expect when booking a hotel. You ignore the really gushing reviews, ignore the really terrible ones and figure the ones in the middle will give you the most honest descriptions. But there can still be a few problems when staying in a hotel.
There are no national guidelines or regulations protecting hotel visitors. You will have the usual rights under general contract laws and most states have “innkeepers regulations.”
If you have a guaranteed reservation, you have paid for the room and the hotel must hold it for you. If you have a confirmed reservation, you have not yet paid for the room and the hotel will hold it for you conditionally. For instance, until a certain time. But if you show up late, they may have already rented the room to someone else. Make sure you have a guaranteed reservation. If you think it’s annoying to have a delayed flight, try getting to your hotel hours late and finding out there is no room at the inn.
If for some reason a room is unavailable, a hotel should pay arrange a room in a different hotel, pay for your transportation there, and pay any difference in price.
If you’ve done your research, you shouldn’t be in for too many unpleasant surprises when you check into a hotel. People love nothing better than complaining on the internet about stuff so if there was a substantial problem with a hotel, you will be able to find out about it.
But if it’s something like a noisy guest in the room next door or a room that was not properly cleaned after the last occupant, you can ask to be moved.
Your Stuff Is Stolen
Don’t bring expensive stuff on vacation! You don’t need your tiara because you’re not that fancy and you don’t need your laptop because you shouldn’t be working on vacation. Bring a book, people don’t steal those. If you do have to bring something valuable, choose a hotel that has a safe. Most states strictly limit the amount a hotel is liable should your property get stolen so you are unlikely to recoup the full value if you get anything at all.
One Simple Trick To Avoid Hassle
I’ll give you a short cut. Get a good travel credit card and you will not have to worry about a lot of this. A good card will provide you with certain protections when you pay for travel with that card. Things like cancellation insurance, coverage for accidental death and dismemberment, rental car insurance, and baggage insurance.
Dealing with a credit card rep is much less hassle than dealing with an airline employee. The credit card company is an advocate for you while an airline is trying to give you the least they can legally get away with.
Travel plans that don’t go smoothly can be frustrating but if you know a few work arounds as well as your rights, you’ll feel much more in control. Bon voyage!
Featured Image Photo Credit: “First Air 727-100” by Doug on Flickr