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Consumer Protection: Know Your Air Travel Rights

airplaneThis Saturday is World Consumer Rights Day, and we want to make sure you truly understand your rights as a consumer, across all industries. Air travel is one of the most frustrating places for consumers, with bumped flights, tarmac delays, lost baggage, and hours lost waiting in security lines.

As of 2011, U.S. airlines must follow the passenger bill of rights, which are protections that require airlines to be fairer to their passengers. These passenger protections range from reimbursements to what airlines must provide its passengers, and the protections are constantly changing. But do you know what those rights entail?

No chilling on the tarmac. U.S. airlines operating domestic flights may not allow an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours, with the exception of security and safety reasons. So next time you see a delay on the tarmac, don’t fret – it’ll be over in less than three hours (for international flights, the time limit is four hours). This is admittedly a long time to be on in a plane seat unmoving, so the rules also require the airline to provide basic services like bathroom facilities, food, and water after two hours.

Bumped from a flight? Cash it in! If you have been involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight, you are eligible to be compensated the value of your tickets up to $400 if the airline is able to get you to your destination within one to two hours of your scheduled arrival time. If delayed two to four hours, you’re entitled to 200 percent of the one-way fare, up to $650. But if you are delayed for a lengthy period of time (more than four hours), you are entitled to 400 percent of the one way fare, up to $1300. (Note: If the airline gets you there in less than an hour from your schedule departure time, you’re not entitled any cash, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask for something.) You are entitled to receive this payment in cash too, so if the airline tries to give you a voucher, insist on cash to avoid restrictions.

No more hidden fees. Airlines can no longer spring surprise fees on you for baggage, meals, reservation changes, or upgraded seating. All fees must be prominently disclosed, and airlines and ticket agents must refer passengers to baggage fee information before and after purchase. All government taxes and fees must be advertised as well – previously, they were not required to be included in the upfront fare quote. So as long as you pay attention and take note of the fees you owe, you shouldn’t have any nasty surprises when you get your bill.

You can change your mind. You have the right to book airfare and change your mind for 24 hours, as long as you book directly through the airline. All U.S. airlines must provide a 24-hour grace period where the consumer can cancel the ticket with no penalty. There is one caveat however – the reservation must be made a week or more prior to departure.

These are just a few of the rights guaranteed to airline passengers by the U.S. Department of Transportation. So next time you fly, make sure you understand all of your rights as a passenger.

With the recent major data breaches, do you trust retailers with your credit card information? Are you less likely to use your credit and debit cards to make a purchase? Take our monthly poll and let us know.

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