Whaddya know about airline passenger rights? Not much

pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com
pcruciatti / Shutterstock.com
Beyond the fact that you don’t have too many, what do you know about your rights as an airline passenger? If you said “not much,” then you’re in good company.

Like Judy Williams. When the airline lost her luggage en route to a conference in Asheville, N.C., a representative promised to find it. But by the time she was reunited with her suitcase two days later, she’d already attended a professional conference wearing jeans and a T-shirt — not ideal attire for an attorney.

Did I say attorney? I sure did. Even someone who practices law doesn’t necessarily know her rights.

“The airline said it would reimburse me the cost of half of one of my outfits,” she says. “Was that fair? I wish I’d known what my rights were.”

The issue of what we know — and should know — will be considered at an upcoming meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection (ACACP), a congressional committee that advises Congress on air travel consumer issues. Advocates want airlines and airports to do one simple thing: Tell consumers what their rights are when they fly.

Williams probably had more rights than her airline led her to believe.

For bags missing more than 24 hours, an airline normally pays for a change of clothes, and if the loss is permanent, federal law requires the airline to refund her baggage fee and sets the limit of liability at $3,400.

Airlines are profiting from passenger ignorance, says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a non-profit organization that advocates for air travelers. “It can’t continue,” he says.

As the consumer representative on the ACACP, he’s one of the advocates pushing airports and the Transportation Department to place billboards in American airports that notify passengers of their rights.

(Disclosure: I’m co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance and serve as its volunteer ombudsman.)

The proposed notices are modeled on a voluntary European Union campaign launched in 2007 to inform passengers of their travel rights.

A U.S.-based campaign would notify travelers of their rights in the event they’re denied boarding, have their checked luggage lost, or experience a flight delay or cancellation.

But it’s easier said than done. Some of your rights are a work in progress, with new proposed government rules expected to be released soon. Even travel experts can’t keep up.

Also, something as simple as tacking posters to an airport wall would require the blessings of airlines, airports, local municipalities that own the airports, and the federal government.

As you might expect, airlines are cool to the idea. Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an airline trade group, says U.S. airlines have “long supported passenger rights” and that today, customers know exactly what they are buying when they book a ticket. “Information for consumers about their rights is available on every major airline’s website and is easily accessible,” she says. But the industry would oppose a mandate to place posters at airports because it would be overkill.

Debby McElroy, the interim president of the Airports Council International-North America, a trade group for U.S. airports, says her organization also questions the need for the posters.

Most of the spaces where the signs would appear are leased by airlines, and those under the airport’s control are prime spots for ads, which airports rely on for income. Still, she says, “We look forward to discussing this.”

The Transportation Department is already using every means available to inform passengers of their rights. That includes a recently redesigned Aviation Consumer Protection website dot .gov/airconsumer) with information on consumers’ rights, including how to file a complaint with an airline. When passengers complain, they also receive a brochure called “Fly Rights,” which outlines their rights as air travelers.

“We’ll continue our efforts to make sure airline consumers are aware of their rights,” says Bill Mosley, a department spokesman.

Perhaps a better question would be: Why would anyone not want to tell passengers about their rights?

It’s clear that everyone down the line has done what’s required of them. Airlines post their policies and contracts of carriage — the legal agreement between you and the air carrier — on their websites.

The government has followed every congressional mandate on air travel rights. And airports have cooperated with authorities when required to do so.

But what’s the harm in more information? Passengers such as John McNeal say there’s only one beneficiary from keeping passengers in the dark: the airline industry.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he says. “Of course there should be a requirement for airlines to post passengers’ rights in airports. The only reason airlines would object is that it limits their ability to ignore their obligations.” (McNeal is in a position to know. Like Williams, he’s an attorney, but also is a retired assistant attorney general for Illinois.)

I’m not convinced this is the only reason why airlines, airports or indeed, the Transportation Department, might resist this idea. After all, a project like this would take time and cost money, both of which always seem to be in short supply.

But the truth is undeniable. Few air travelers know all their rights.

And that’s wrong.

Do airlines try to prevent us from knowing our rights when we fly?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirportParkingReservations.com

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkSleepFly.com, AirportParking.com, and ShuttleFinder.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by G1G.com

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend