We've all heard the horror stories: Passengers trapped on the tarmac for hours with no food, water or bathroom. Travelers who have been denied boarding or stranded in the airport overnight. Unforeseen circumstances can happen on any flight but knowing you rights can keep you from being ripped off or bullied by the airlines.

Ask for your copy of the rules.
When you purchase your airline ticket, you've entered into a contract with the airline and by law, the airline must furnish you with a copy of that contract. Ask for it at the ticket counter or any customer service counter. The rules we are discussing here apply to U.S. carriers. EU carrier rules allow for even greater compensation in most instances. Flight cancellations and delays are some of the most frustrating and frequent occurrences for travelers. Even more so since there are no federal requirements for passenger compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. Most airlines will re-accomodate you on another flight- even on another airline. Some may offer meal vouchers or phone cards but chances are they won't ask YOU if you'd like one. You have to ask for compensation. In this case, Don't get hot- keep your cool. Remain polite, even understanding - if you can pull it off!

You do have rights for compensation for most cases of denied boarding.
There are two scenarios to consider in the case of 'bumping'. If the flight is oversold the airline will first ask for volunteers to be bumped. They may offer vouchers for future air travel, meals and hotel stays. They may even offer cash or first class upgrades. If they cannot get enough volunteers they will then resort to involuntary bumping. If you are bumped from your scheduled flight and the airline can re-accomodate you on a flight within one hour of your original flight time, they are not required to compensate you.

*re-accomodation on a domestic flight within 1 to 2 hours entitles you to up to $400.00.

*Longer than 2 hours you are entitled to twice that amount- up to $800.00. On international flights delay must be longer than 4 hours.

* You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to you may request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.

Your baggage has rights too!!
If your bags are delayed, airlines will usually pay "reasonable" expenses until the luggage is found. The amount paid is subject to negotiation, and you may have to fight for a decent payment. If your bags are not found you must file a claim, which can take anywhere from six weeks to three months for reimbursement. For bags lost or damaged on flights within the U.S., a liability limit of $3,300 applies. On international trips, the liability limit may vary, as it is governed by various international treaties.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your flight is cancelled, don't rely on the counter personnel for help. Chances are by the time you make it to the front of the line, all seats will have been taken for the next flight. While in line, call your travel agent, or the airline directly. They can confirm that seat for you so by the time you get to the counter agent you'll be ready for your boarding pass.
  • Make sure that you have followed all the rules of the airline, such as check in and boarding time requirements. If you don't, you may be denied any compensation.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what you're getting before you strike a deal.
  • Find out when you will get a CONFIRMED seat on a flight to your destination.
  • Find out the restrictions on your voucher.
  • See what added perks are included. Upgrades, meals, phone calls, or hotel rooms for long delays may be included.