Flight passenger rights in US

Published by Travel Visa Pro on Sun Mar 15 2020

So you’ve got your passport in hand (courtesy of a rush job by Travel Visa Pro!) and are headed to the airport. As a frequent or even a first-time traveler, you’re going to have to jump through a number of hoops just to move between the drop off point and your gate: check in counters, 1-3 layers of security, and possibly immigration. Though these each come with their own challenges and laws to govern them, we’ll be focusing on what happens specifically when it comes to air travel.

For example, let’s say there are no hiccups and you successfully board your flight. How long can an airline legally delay you before it has to shell out some cash for a hotel room, if ever? What kind of flight compensation are you entitled to if you’re bumped off an overbooked flight? Let’s look at some of the issues affecting flight passenger rights in the US.


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Overbooked or Oversold Flights in the US


Colloquially known as “bumping”, this process involves an airline selling more than the number of available seats on board (which it regularly does), and all the passengers arriving on time to board the flight. In this scenario, airline staff usually make an announcement at the gate requesting volunteers give up their seats in exchange for a combination of food vouchers, frequent flier miles, an airline voucher, or possibly a hotel room and taxi voucher.

What is being offered depends on whether the flight is domestic or international (passengers on international flights aren’t bumped as often, but it does happen), and the expected time of delay to your original travel plans. If said airline can have you reach your destination between 1-4 hours after your original arrival time for international flights, or 1-2 hours for domestic flights, you are entitled to 200% of the one-way fare to your destination, up to $675. Any delay beyond that? 400%, up to $1350.

Unfortunately, passengers who are delayed by less than one hour, even in overbooking situations, are not entitled to any compensation. That having been said, in light of negative PR as a result of situations like United Airlines forcibly removing passengers from overbooked flights (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Express_Flight_3411_incident), airlines are becoming more reluctant to take passengers off flights without providing enough compensation to avoid being the subject of another viral video.


How long you can wait on the tarmac


What’s the longest time you’ve had to wait with your seatbelt fastened, your luggage stored, and your seatback fully upright and locked? We all have our stories. Though there is no compensation provided for flights delayed between the gate and takeoff, flight passengers in the US do have certain rights for this particular situation.

The US Department of Transportation has mandated that airlines are not allowed to keep passengers on a plane waiting on the tarmac for more than four hours for international flights and three hours for domestic flights unless there are extenuating circumstances. After this deadline has passed, passengers must be given the option to return to the terminal. Even before then, food and water must be provided after two hours’ wait.


Flight Delays and Cancellations


Unlike waiting time on the tarmac, flight delays aren’t quite as quantitative when it comes to refunds. Usually, airlines consider a substantial delay as grounds for compensation. However, these delays are arbitrary in length, and causes vary from weather to technical issues. When it comes to passenger rights in the US, a substantial delay means a full refund or a new ticket to your original destination, even for nonrefundable tickets.

Because there is no set definition of a delay, each airline has their own policies for different compensation offered. For example, many airlines offer meal vouchers good for shops and restaurants across the terminal for delays of several hours, while some do consider offering passengers a free night in an airport hotel for overnight delays. In some cases, you may even be allowed to be rebooked on a different airline at no additional charge. Regardless, these policies can vary considerably by airline, and flight passengers in the US aren’t entitled to them so much as given them to avoid unleashing a social media firestorm.

Whether you’re waiting on the tarmac reading this with time to kill or staring in dismay at the delay announcement in the international terminal, we hope you’ve chosen Travel Visa Pro to facilitate your visa and passport applications prior to travel. With our team of trained staff in offices nationwide, we can not only get you your passport in a hurry, but difficult-to-obtain visas to a number of countries.

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