Airlines must display the full cost of an airline ticket, including taxes and user fees. Travel Agencies and online aggregation sites must display the full price. This is mandated by DOT’s Full Fare Advertising Rule.
Normally, state consumer protection laws would govern deceptive advertising, but the Supreme Court has held that the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 preempts state consumer protection laws.
An airline may display component charges, such as taxes. They cannot be prominently displayed or displayed in font size that is the same or larger than the font for the total price. When a fee purports to cover a cost, the airline must display the cost information on a per passenger basis, accurately reflecting the cost of the item covered by the charge. Any additional charge must be offered on an “opt in basis”. This means you must affirmatively agree to purchase the additional service for an additional price. Offering extra services on an “opt out basis” is considered an unfair and deceptive practice.
DOT regulation requires the airline to either hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours or allow the reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty. 14 CFR 259.5(b)(4)
For airlines that use the “cancellation” system, you may cancel a reservation within 24 hours of booking it, provided that you are at least one week away from the flight. After the 24 hours, you are at the mercy of the airline’s policy, which may include steep cancellation or change fees.
For airlines that use the “hold” system instead, such as American Airlines, you may lock in your seat and fare for 24 hours, without paying. At the end of the 24 hours, you simply lose the seat.
Airlines must give prompt notification in the event of a delay over 30 minutes. The notification must be at the boarding gate area, via telephone informational system, and on its website.
Policies for what services are provided to a customer waiting in the airport vary by airline and are contained in their contracts of carriage. The contracts of carriage generally leave it to the airline’s discretion to distribute meal voucher and hotel accommodations. Airlines refer to “reasonable accommodations” and further limit their obligations by making any accommodations “subject to availability.”
Visit here for more information on each airline’s policy on meal vouchers and hotel accommodations.
Airlines may not confine you on the tarmac for more than three hours (four hours for international flights). After three hours, the airline must allow you to deplane subject to security and safety exceptions. Airlines are fined based on the length of the delay but passengers do not receive compensation. After two hours, the airline must provide food and water.
When you are bumped from a flight because the airline sold too many tickets, the airline must get you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival or else pay you compensation. The amount of compensation is computed based on the length of the delay.
If you arrive between one and two hours behind schedule on a domestic flight, or between one and four hours on an international flight, the airline must pay you 200% of your one-way fare, up to $675. If the delay is longer, the airline owes you 400% of the one-way fare, up to $1350. Click here for more information.
Airlines are required to compensate for reasonable expenses incurred when they are in the processes of tracking down and/or delivering delayed luggage. The reimbursement amount depends on the circumstances, the length of the delay, the nature of the items, etc. Additionally, some airlines may give a cash advance for emergency expenses.
Airlines will not reimburse for spoilage of perishable items.
When your baggage is lost, the airline must reimburse baggage fees. You must submit a timely claim to start the reimbursement process as soon as it is declared permanently lost. See the ‘Lost Luggage’ section on the DOT’s website for details on filing a claim.
There is currently a $3,500 liability limit on domestic trips per passenger as regulated by the DOT. Some airlines offer “excess valuation” at check-in if belongings exceed the $3,500 limit, which increases the airline’s liability. However, airlines refuse it for extremely valuable or fragile items. The limit is about $1,675 for international trips as governed by the Montreal Convention.
Airlines are required to compensate for reasonable expenses. Airlines will attempt to repair damages or reimburse for depreciated value of damaged luggage and/or belongings. Exceptions may occur for items that are fragile in nature, improperly packed, or when there is no external damage to the baggage.
Airlines cannot limit liability for certain parts of luggage (handles, zippers, wheels, etc.) if damage resulted from airline error that exceeds normal wear and tear resulting from ordinary handling.
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination against disabled passengers. The DOT has an extensive rule outlining the rights of passengers and the requirements of the airlines.
Generally, a disabled traveler does not need to notify the airline ahead of time. However, in instances where the airline must prepare for accommodations, the airline may require up to 48 hours’ notice. Examples include if the traveler requires a stretcher or use of the airline’s oxygen system.
U.S. airlines are required to allow passengers to travel with service animals in the cabin, and they cannot limit the number on any flight. Service animals are trained to assist persons with disabilities and are not considered pets. They do not require health certificates to travel, and are not required to be confined to cages or carriers in the cabin.
However, animals can be banned from flight if they pose a safety or health risk or cause significant disruption to others.
Each airline has its own rules for whether or not pets can travel in the cabin of the airplane. If the airline allows pets to travel in the cabin, the pet container is considered an item of carry-on baggage and must meet the appropriate requirements. Check with each airline about their procedures and policies.
Disinsection, the spraying of an aerosolized insecticide (with or without passengers on the plane) is permitted under international law. More than 50 countries require the use of disinsection methods for inbound flights. The airlines may use an aerosol spray with passengers on or off the plane. Alternatively, they may use a wipe when the passengers are not on the plane.
U.S. airlines are required, by law, to notify passengers, when purchasing a ticket, that the country may require the use of insecticides.
You may file a complaint with the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division. For airline service complaints, you may also call the ACPD at 202-366-2220 (TTY: 202-366-0511)
You are also encouraged to file complaints with Flyers Rights. Flyers Rights operates a Toll Free Hotline at 1-800-FLYERS-6