Know your holiday flight rights and when airlines are required to compensate passengers

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Thursday, December 28, 2023
When airlines are required to compensate passengers
As millions head to the airport this holiday season, you should know what your flight rights are if things don't go as planned.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- As millions head to the airport this holiday season, you should know what your flight rights are if things don't go as planned.

Airlines will often overbook flights to make sure they are as full as possible if some passengers don't show up. If they end up running out of seats, they'll begin bumping people off the flight and have to pay passengers for their trouble.

"They are required to compensate you under federal law," said personal injury attorney Daniel Bello with The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. "The amount of compensation depends on many factors, such as how timely the airline can get you to your destination and substitute transportation."

Airlines will often offer a certain amount of money at the gate to passengers who are willing to be voluntarily bumped. If you take one of those offers, Bello recommends also calling customer service as they may offer you a higher dollar amount.

"One small trick is to try to reach the international customer service," Bello said. "They typically answer faster than domestic numbers."

Bello recommends getting to the airport at least two hours early, as airlines typically bump the last passengers that show up to the flight.

Now, if you experience delays or cancellations, you have fewer protections than if you're bumped. That's why Bello recommends really researching each individual airline's policy before booking, or even purchasing travel insurance just in case. Cheaper flights may come with much less protection if something goes wrong.

Some airlines will offer vouchers, accommodations, or rebook you if you experience significant delays or cancellations, but they're technically not required to compensate you unless you're flying internationally.

There is one notable exception.

"Being stuck on the tarmac, which is probably the worst scenario," Bello mentioned. "They have to feed you if you're stuck for 3 hours or more."

If an airline loses or damages your luggage, they could be required to pay you up to $3,800 depending on what was inside your suitcase. If you're planning to travel with items exceeding that amount, Bello recommends purchasing separate insurance just for your luggage.

If you take a picture of your luggage and its contents, and make sure to hold onto or take a photo of your baggage tag, it'll be much easier to get compensated if your luggage is lost.

Airlines are also required to pay incidental costs related to delayed luggage, like your Uber back to the airport to retrieve your suitcase.

If you wind up getting injured on a flight, Bello recommends contacting an attorney as quickly as you can, as there is a statute of limitations for pursuing legal action in incidents like these.

If you want a full list of the rights airline passengers have when booking and flying, click here.

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