What Are My Rights as An Airline Passenger?

What a great business trip.  You’ve just closed the deal of a lifetime.  You flew to the client’s home base and gave the best presentation in your career so far. You nailed it. There is nothing that could take away your high.  You imagine your boss shaking your hand and saying, “Great job on that client! We want to make you partner.  I’ve scheduled a meeting with the board tonight and we’re making it final.”

It is always good to dream, right?

Because you brought so much material, you have an extra bag. It always gives you a twinge, but you made to your destination perfectly, so there’s no reason to doubt you won’t get the stuff home. It’s important because the boss needs the HD projector for his VP meeting tomorrow and it’s packed carefully inside.

Getting through security goes smoothly and you think, “Hey, this is MY day! I can’t wait to get to the home office and enjoy my well-deserved kudos!”

You board the plane in business class and settle in for the hour flight home.  The standard preflight ritual is comforting. The plane backs out of the terminal and gets in line to take off.  The pilot tells everyone there’s a slight delay. You know the drill. You take out your tablet or laptop and do some work.

Thirty minutes goes by, then thirty more and the next thing you know two hours have passed and you’re hot, thirsty, and ear numb from the screaming baby in row 23. The pilot speaks overhead, “We’re sorry folks, but we need to return to the terminal.”

Now you’re back where you started and your disembarking to stand there with seventy-five or so other passengers wondering what’s going on and what you can do about it.  You think, “What are my rights as an airline passenger?”

In this scenario, it’s good to know your rights and what you can do.

Delayed on The Tarmac

If your flight has been delayed airlines are required to provide passengers with food and water. If you didn’t receive these, then you have a right to be compensated. This is true for both domestic and international flights.

Airlines are also required to keep the lavatories operating and give basic medical attention if it’s required. The ear numbness from row 23 doesn’t qualify as medical attention unless your ears start to bleed.  Although it may feel like it, that’s probably not going to be the case.

The Department of Transportation, DOT, has a rule the prohibits airlines from keeping planes on the tarmac with passengers aboard for more than three hours. But there are two reasons why your plane may still be sitting on tarmac after that time limit.

Pilot Determination

The pilot has the right to determine that for the safety and security of all their passengers they cannot taxi back to the gate and deplane passengers. It’s inconvenient and may or may not be valid after review, but at the time, the pilot has the right to make that determination.

Air Traffic Control Determination

Air traffic control is responsible for the whole airline flow. It’s a huge responsibility and we’ve all heard nightmares about mishaps when an air traffic controller messes up. So that job is critical. It’s one thing to be in a fender bender on a city street and another to crush noses with multimillion dollar plane.  Not to mention if you happen to be airborne at the time.

So, air traffic control has the responsibility to advise the pilot that taxing to the gate would significantly disrupt airport activities and you are stuck there for however long they determine.

What are my rights, then?

You should know your rights, when you are in this situation. You have a right to lodge a complaint to your airline. Complaining to the airline can be a nightmare, but it can also garner you more than enough money to ease your pain and possibly even ease your boss’s anger at not getting his HD projector back in time to give his mind-blowing presentation to all the VPs.

The DOT requires each airline to provide passengers with information on how to file a complaint. Most airlines have strict rules and timelines that must be met to receive the maximum, or even minimum monetary compensation.

There are airline Customer Service Representatives whose job it is to assist you with your complaint immediately. Sometimes this works and other times, it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you have a right to complain directly to the airline. Usually, airlines have information on their website about how to file complaints.

If you’re not into being mindlessly redirected or spoken to condescendingly as you try to get something for your delay, then you can use a service to do that for you. Knowing your rights is important. Exercising your rights is satisfying and empowering.

As an airline passenger, it’s crucial for you to be aware of your rights. Your business needs your time because your time is money. Don’t lose the momentum you gained by landing that high paying client by not getting the money you deserve for your time.