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Catching a Holiday Flight? Know Your Rights

PHOTO: Up, up and away...unless there are problems. During the busy holiday travel season, airline passengers are urged to know their rights in case of flight delays, cancellations, lost luggage and other potential hassles. Photo credit: travinkovstudio/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Up, up and away...unless there are problems. During the busy holiday travel season, airline passengers are urged to know their rights in case of flight delays, cancellations, lost luggage and other potential hassles. Photo credit: travinkovstudio/iStockphoto.com
November 24, 2014

SEATTLE - Airports will be bustling this week with folks catching flights to their Thanksgiving destinations. Sea-Tac International expects more than 600,000 travelers.

While the thought of delays or cancellations may be stressful, airline passengers can take some comfort in knowing they have some protections under the law.

Abe Scarr, director of the Public Interest Research Group in Illinois, says people who don't fly often may be unaware of their rights as airline passengers. For instance, there are rules adopted in the last few years about being stuck on a plane that isn't taking off.

"If you're stuck on the tarmac over a period of time, the airline is required to give you food and water and medical attention," he says. "After three hours, they either have to return you to the airport or be in the air."

For overbooked flights, he says there is no mandatory amount of compensation for those who volunteer to be bumped, but airlines typically negotiate if you're willing to take a later flight. For those involuntarily bumped, Scarr says if the flight isn't re-booked within two hours, a passenger is owed 200 percent of the one-way fare, up to $650.

Scarr says passengers also have rights when it comes to lost luggage, so it's worth making a note as you pack, of what you're taking on the trip and what it's worth.

"If your bag is just simply delayed, the airlines are required to reimburse you for reasonable expenses, such as toiletries or a change of clothes," says Scarr. "If they lose your bags, they're required to refund any checked-baggage fees, and reimburse you for the lost items, up to $3,400."

He says airlines are required to provide information about how to file complaints, and must respond to a complaint within 60 days. According to AAA, Thanksgiving air travel is expected to be at its highest level since 2007, with more than 3.5 million people in the air this week.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA