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When passengers comment on airline service, most airlines do listen. They analyze and keep track of the complaints and compliments they receive. Airlines use this information to determine what the public wants and identify problem areas that need special attention. While you do have some rights as a passenger, your demands for compensation will probably be subject to negotiation and the kind of action you get depends in large part on the way you go about complaining.
Before you call or write to DOT or some other agency for help with an air travel problem, you should give the airline a chance to resolve it. They can arrange meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers, write checks for denied boarding compensation, arrange luggage repairs, and settle other routine claims or complaints.
If you can't resolve the problem at the airport and want to file a complaint, it's best to call or write the airline's consumer office at its corporate headquarters. Keep all of your travel documents (ticket receipts, baggage check stubs, boarding passes, etc.) as well as receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses that were incurred as a result of the mishandling. Here are some helpful tips should you choose to write a letter.
We have tried to provide you general information about airline travel. It is important to realize, however, that each airline has specific rules that make up your contract of carriage. These rules may differ among carriers.
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If your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for repairs. The same holds true for belongings packed inside. Airlines may decline to pay for damage caused by the fragile nature of the broken item or inadequate packing, rather than the airline's rough handling. But airlines generally don't disclaim liability for fragile merchandise packed in its original factory sealed carton, a cardboard mailing tube, or other container designed for shipping and packed with protective padding material.
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Airlines don't guarantee their schedules. This is important to keep in mind when planning your trip. There are many things that can, and often do make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Weather conditions can deteriorate, or a mechanical problem can turn out to be more complex than initially determined.
If the problem is with local weather or air traffic control, all flights will probably be late and unfortunately, there's not much you or the airline can do to speed up your departure. If there's a mechanical problem with the plane for your particular flight or if the crew is delayed on an incoming flight, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you don't have to pay a cancellation penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. (It is sometimes easier to make such arrangements from a phone than at a ticket counter.) If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier; this could save you a fare increase.
Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. Airline delays and cancellations aren't unusual, and defensive counter-planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration. When booking your flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight due to "ripple" effects throughout the day. A change of planes always involves the possibility of a misconnection. If you have a choice of connections and the fares and service are equivalent, choose the one with the least-congested connecting airport, so it will be easier to get to your second flight. When making your reservation for a connection, always check the amount of time between flights.
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For domestic travel, an airline may provide all of its contract terms on or with your ticket at the time you buy it. Other airlines may elect to "incorporate terms by reference." This means that you are not given all the airline's rules with your ticket; most of them are contained in a separate document which you can inspect on request. If an airline incorporates contract terms by reference and fails to provide the required notice about a particular rule, the passenger will not be bound by that rule.
Not all of the detailed requirements for disclosing domestic contract terms apply to international travel.
Airlines file "tariff rules" with the government for this transportation. Every international airline must keep a copy of its tariff rules at its airport and city ticket offices. You have a right to examine these rules. The most important point to remember, whether your travel is domestic or international, is that you should not be afraid to ask questions about a carrier's rules. Click here to see if you need a visa for your travel.
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Once your bag is declared officially lost, you will have to submit a claim. The airline will usually refer your claim form to a central office, and the negotiations between you and the airline will begin. Airlines don't automatically pay the full amount of every claim they receive. Like insurance companies, airlines consider the depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs. They often ask for sales receipts and other documentation to back up claims, especially if a large amount of money is involved. Generally, it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage.
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Limits on Liability
If your bags are delayed, lost, or damaged on a domestic trip, the airline can invoke a ceiling of $2,800 per passenger on the amount of money they'll pay you. When your luggage and its contents are worth more than the liability limit, you may want to purchase "excess valuation," if available, from the airline as you check in.
On international round trips that originate in the United States, the liability limit is set by a treaty called the Montreal Convention. Unless you buy excess valuation, the airline's baggage liability on a trip covered by the Montreal Convention is limited to 1,000 "Special Drawing Rights" per passenger. The value of the SDR changes daily; see www.imf.org.
This international limit also applies to domestic segments of an international journey.
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Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for "no-shows." Passengers are sometimes left behind or "bumped" as a result. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.
Our rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for some compensation before bumping anyone in-voluntarily. If you're not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight.
Airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price.
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights. Those travelers who don't get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. No compensation is due if the airline arranges substitute transportation which is scheduled to arrive at your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time.
If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time, (between one and four hours on international flights) the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $200 maximum.
The most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. On oversold flights the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline. Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference. Finally, don't be a "no-show." If you are holding confirmed reservations you don't plan to use, notify the airline.
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