Delays, cancellations, lost luggage, long lines, no pilots. This summer has been a hot mess for travelers, with some airlines preemptively canceling thousands of flights. So what’s the best way to combat the seemingly endless travel chaos? Knowing your rights as an airline passenger is a great place to start.
United States Passenger Rights
Canceled Flights: Travelers in the U.S. often feel that they are at the mercy of the airline when it comes to compensation for delays, cancelations, and luggage issues. Even the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) website recommends trying to work with your airline to reach an acceptable conclusion. They point out that most airlines will rebook you on the first similar flight with space available. However, it can often be challenging to get an airline to refund a canceled flight if you decide not to travel. However, a relatively unknown law requires airlines to refund passengers on canceled flights, regardless of the reason.
Overbooking: In the case of overbooking in the U.S., which is not illegal, there are several rules for compensation depending on your particular situation. If the airline can get you to your final destination within one hour of your original arrival time, you will not receive any compensation. If the airline can get you to your final destination between one and two hours of your original arrival time, you are entitled to 200% of your one-way fare cost or $775, whichever amount is lower. If the airline can get you to your final destination more than two hours after your original arrival time (or four hours for international flights), or if the airline cannot make any alternative travel plans for you, the minimum compensation is 400% of your one-way fare or $1,550, whichever amount is lower.
Luggage: If a passenger’s baggage has been lost in the U.S., they are entitled to a refund for the baggage fee. One caveat is that the airline must declare the baggage as lost, which can take up to two weeks depending on the airline. If an airline keeps pushing this off and refuses to declare a bag lost, they can be forced to declare the baggage lost by the DOT.
Canada Passenger Rights
Canceled Flights: For cancellations within the airline’s control, travelers can receive a refund rather than rebooking under two circumstances. If the new arrangements offered don’t meet their original travel needs or if there is no longer any purpose for traveling (e.x. missing an appointment). If passengers have their plans disrupted and it is within the airline’s control, and they choose to be refunded rather than rebooked, they are still entitled to $400 CAD (≈$310 US) from large airlines and $125 CAD (≈$97 US) from small airlines. For cancellations due to circumstances the airline cannot control, passengers must be rebooked with another airline if they cannot offer another option within 4 hours.
Overbooking: Similar to the United States, compensation rates vary in Canada based on how long it takes to reach the final destination originally booked by the passenger. One difference for Canada is that the amount of compensation depends on the size of the airline. For a delay of up to 6 hours, passengers must be compensated $400 CAD (≈$310 US). For a delay between 6 & 9 hours, passengers must be compensated $700 CAD (≈$540 US). For a delay greater than 9 hours, passengers are to be compensated $1000 CAD (≈$775 US). The airline must also pay passengers as soon as they are notified that they will not be able to board. Passengers are allowed one year to make a compensation claim, and the airline must respond within 30 days.
Luggage: In Canada, airlines are held responsible for luggage that is lost or damaged up to an amount of $2300 CAD (≈$1785 US). This is valid for international and domestic flights, and passengers have 7 days to file a claim for damaged luggage and 21 days to file a claim for lost luggage.
For a complete breakdown of Canada’s passenger rights, see the Canadian Transport Agency’s website.
European Union Air Passenger Rights
Canceled Flights: Passengers in the E.U. can choose between a refund, rebooking for the next available flight, or rebooking for a later date. If you learn of the cancellation less than 14 days before the departure date, you will be compensated. Rates are €250 (≈$260 US) for trips less than 1500 km, €400 (≈$417 US) for flights between 1500 km and 3000 km, and €600 (≈$626 US) for flights over 3500 km.
Overbooking: In the event of a flight being overbooked, passengers are entitled to several different options. Compensation, a refund, rebooking on the next available flight, rebooking at a later date. The compensation structure follows the same rates as canceled flights. Airlines should also offer assistance for free while passengers wait, which could include; refreshments, food, and accommodations with transport.
Luggage: If luggage is lost, damaged, or delayed in the EU, passengers are to be compensated by the airline directly up to €1300 (≈$1356 US).
For a complete breakdown of the E.U.’s passenger rights, see their website.
United Kingdom Air Passenger Rights
Brexit complicated many things, but passenger rights in the U.K. remain largely unaffected, following the same structure as the European Union. The main difference comes in the form of compensation for delays or cancellations. This is ultimately just a change in compensation from Euros to Pound Sterling. Compensation rates are £220 (≈$266 US) for trips less than 1500 km, £350 (≈$423 US) for flights between 1500 km and 3000 km, and £520 (≈$628 US) for flights over 3500 km.
For a complete breakdown of the United Kingdom’s passenger rights, see their website.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories