Know Your Rights as an Airline Passenger

Know Your Rights as an Airline Passenger
Bernadine Racoma

The infamous video of a man, later identified as a doctor, being forcibly taken off a United Airlines flight, still inspires questions from people around the globe. What are your rights as a passenger? What are you owed and what rights does the airline have when you have to give up your seat on a flight?

It was a case of overbooking, which many airlines do to maximize revenue as many passengers typically do not show up. United Airlines (UA) already released a statement regarding the issue, apologizing to the victim and promising to make reforms and safeguards so that incidents such as that will not happen again.

Just to recap, United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky was overbooked. They offered $800 for any passenger willing to transfer to a later flight. Since there were few volunteers, the airline selected four people. Three passengers willingly gave up their seats. The fourth one, the airline said, refused to leave his seat and became enraged. Airport police forcibly dragged him out of the plane.

After all’s been said and done, several questions remain. What are your rights as an airline passenger?

There are rights you have to give up

According to Flyers’ Rights advocacy group president, Paul Hudson, there are actually rights that you have to give up once you board a flight. Once you’re aboard an aircraft, you agree to obey the flight crew’s instructions, even if you consider them unreasonable or unfair. Although you can file a complaint later, the flight crew has the authority over every passenger. They are in charge of your safety throughout the flight.

Right to compensation

You are entitled to compensation if you involuntarily give up your seat. There is no government regulation on the amount, although there is a maximum amount currently imposed. Maximum for a domestic flight is  $1,350 and $5,500 for an international flight. It can be given in check or in cash.

Your right to stay aboard is waived

When you buy an airline ticket and board a plane, you agree to the contract of carriage. This means that the airline’s rights supersede your rights. If you do not follow the request of the flight crew, including getting off the plane, they have the right to call the authorities. In this context, what happened to the passenger on the UA flight in question was legal. The forceful action by the police is another matter.

Passenger rights

Passengers involuntarily bumped off are entitled to cash compensation. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the airline must deliver their passengers to their destination within an hour of their original flight schedule. If they arrive at their final stop 1 or 2 hours late, the airlines must pay twice the amount of the one-way ticket. The airline must pay 400% the original ticket cost if they are over 2 hours late. These are subject to the federal limit. The airline must rebook your flight if they bumped you off the original flight.

You can insist on getting the compensation in cash or check instead of vouchers, which usually have so many stipulations attached. You can also keep your original ticket that will retain its value. You are entitled to claim the compensation right after being involuntarily taken off the flight.

Airline rights

The federal rule on compensation only applies when passengers are involuntarily bumped off. If you volunteer to give up your seat, you are not entitled to anything. Compensations are not given when the airline needs to use a smaller plane, if the removal is due to issues with weight and balance because of the smaller plane or if the flight has been canceled or delayed.

If a passenger turns unruly, he or she can be removed from the flight and might be fined for a maximum amount of $25,000.

It is always important to know your rights. Read the fine print as well, so you will know what the airline can and are able to do.

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