Airline passengers’ rights have been a hot topic recently, partly because air travel since reopening from COVID has become so fraught with problems. It’s hard to keep track of which rules in the news are proposed and which are in place. Let’s survey them.
Proposed, but not yet law: Senate Bill 3222 proposes a general Airline Passenger Bill of Rights. It is pending in committee as of this writing on 7/17/2022. If passed, it will no doubt be popular among travelers. Here are some highlights: compensation for delayed or canceled flights, protection against being involuntarily bumped, eliminating arbitrary dollar limits on compensation, ending unreasonable fees, and better transparency on ticket pricing (including disclosing the lowest price). It would also require the FAA to prohibit reductions in seat size or legroom. Here’s where to read more or to follow the bill’s progress:
Already law: The US Department of Transportation put into effect on 7/7/2022 a Bill of Rights for passengers with disabilities. It applies to persons with a physical or mental impairment that permanently or temporarily impacts a major life activity such as walking, hearing, or breathing. It requires treating persons with disabilities with dignity and respect. Airlines and airports must provide assistance from curbside to on-board when requested, e.g., wheelchairs, a sight guide, etc. Carriers cannot require a passenger to use a method that wasn’t requested, for example, requiring a passenger to use a wheelchair when a sight guide was requested. Training of airline personnel is stressed, including the easiest ways to communicate with disabled persons, e.g., written information for deaf passengers. Airlines are required to transport assistive devices, including wheelchairs, without these items counting against the permitted number of items. Because of a large number of complaints of wheelchair damage or destruction, the new rules require compensation up to the replacement cost of the item. Service animals must be transported except where safety or security reasons prevent it. The rules strive to get information to disabled passengers ahead of time, for example, if the plane will not have a level loading surface, and what alternative arrangements are available. A new conflict resolution program is to address disability-related complaints promptly. Learn more details here:
What about compensation for delays and cancellations? Department of Transportation rules do not require airlines to compensate passengers for delays. If the flight is canceled, passengers are entitled to rebooking or a refund of the fare and related charges like baggage charges; airlines are not responsible for other costs like taxis to the airport, missed cruises, etc.
And then there’s overbooking (bumping). When the airline asks for volunteers to give up seats in exchange for a voucher, be sure you understand the details like blackout dates, expiration dates, etc. If you are involuntarily bumped for space reasons and the airline can get you to your destination within one hour, no compensation is due. If the resulting delay is 1-2 hours for domestic flights (or 1-4 for international flights), compensation is 200% of the ticket, capped at $775 unless the airline voluntarily pays more; for longer delays, this doubles. Airlines are required to offer bumping compensation on the spot at the airport. USDOT rules and complaint forms are available a:
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney at Steffan &Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough. She can be reached at (919)732-7300 or email@example.com.