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A Draft Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

A simple creation of fairness
 

The United States has been founded on certain assumptions of inalienable rights and the concept of fairness.

We need to rediscover our roots, and bring back the concept of fairness and rights to air travel and how we as passengers are treated by the airlines.

Part 2 of a 4 part series - part 1 explains why we need a Passenger Bill of Rights and part 3 tells you how you can help make sure we get a Bill of Rights enacted.  Part 4 is the electronic petition we need you to sign to show your support for the Passenger Bill of Rights.

 

 

Air travel is potentially full of annoyances both small and large, ranging from the overhead light that doesn't work, killing your ability to read a book on the long overnight flight, to arriving at the airport and discovering your flight was cancelled and having the airline representative say 'we tried to contact you' even though your cell phone has always been on, in coverage, and with no call from the airline.

What makes these aggravations worse is that, at present, we're often completely uncompensated for them.

We can't stop the airlines from being airlines, but we can financially punish them for their bad behavior and hopefully thereby motivate them to adopt a better standard of service.

The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights will do exactly that.

 

What the Passenger Bill of Rights covers

The Passenger Bill of Rights achieves multiple objectives.  It removes existing airline exemptions from the usual standards of commercial contracts and fairness, and it gives passengers compensation when things go wrong.

The Passenger Bill of Rights applies to all passengers on all airlines, both scheduled and charter, and applies to all flights, no matter what size the aircraft, for the sectors of their itinerary where either the departure or the arrival is with a US airport.

These rights are not exclusionary and don't prevent passengers from seeking other recourse that might also be open to them.

Lastly, recognizing that even with the full force of a Bill of Rights enacted into law, there may still be times when airlines choose to ignore their obligations, it makes it simple and easy for passengers to sue to claim their entitled compensation, and penalizes airlines that neglect their obligations.

The Passenger Bill of Rights

See also the section on definitions, below, for definitions of key words and phrases, and the section on compensation, also below, for the entitlements you'll earn if your rights are violated.

The following are the provisions we're proposing be incorporated in an airline passenger bill of rights.  You might have others you'd like included, or comments about the current inclusions.  Please pass any comments you have back to us so we can adapt and improve on the present draft.

A right to compensation if your flight is delayed

If a flight is more than one hour and less than two hours late arriving at its destination (see definition of 'late arrival' below) each passenger will qualify for Level One compensation (see section on compensation below).

If a flight is more than two hours late arriving at its destination, each passenger will qualify for Level Two compensation.

In addition, if a flight is more than three hours late departing, each passenger will be offered a Three Hour Delay compensation for each full three hours of delay.

In addition, if a flight becomes or is expected to become more than four hours late departing, the airline will offer to make arrangements to transport passengers on any other scheduled carrier that can accommodate them to their destination, in the same or better class of service, and at no additional cost to the passengers, regardless of what the extra cost may be to the airline.

In addition, if a flight becomes or is expected to become more than six hours late, with at least four of those hours falling between the hours of 11pm and 6am, each passenger will be offered an Overnight Delay compensation.

If a flight is 'chronically delayed' such that, for more than one in every four flights during the last 28 days, this same flight has been delayed by more than one hour arriving at its destination, passengers will be entitled to double the Level One or Level Two compensation they would otherwise receive.

A right to compensation if your flight is cancelled

If, at any time subsequent to a passenger paying in full for their airline ticket, any one of the flights on their itinerary is cancelled, the airline that issued (plated) the ticket on which the cancelled flight is part of must provide timely notification of the cancellation and offer (at the passenger's choice) either alternate flights on the same airline(s) as before or on any other airlines that operate flights closer to the time of the cancelled flights than the alternate flights operated by the ticketing airline itself.

As an alternative, the passenger may ask for a refund, either of their complete ticket if they have not yet commenced their travels, or of those affected parts of their ticket if their journey has commenced.

In addition to arranging alternate flights or refunding affected parts of an itinerary, the airline will also pay Level One compensation to each passenger.

If the airline did not provide timely notification, it will also be liable for compensation as if the flight were delayed, based on larger difference of either the departure or arrival time of the replacement flight(s) and the original cancelled flight(s).

If a flight is 'chronically cancelled' such that, for more than one in every seven flights during the last 28 days, this same flight has been cancelled, passengers will be entitled to double the Level One compensation they would otherwise receive.

In the case of a cancellation directly related to a declared state or national disaster or emergency in either the region in which the flight is scheduled to take off or land, then - if the airline makes a timely notification to passengers, it will suffer no further cancellation penalties, but will still remain obliged to rebook passengers on any available flight or to refund tickets, and to provide delay compensation in the form of meals and - if overnight - accommodation as per the provisions of the delay right.

A right to compensation if you are denied boarding

Airlines must re-accommodate passengers holding a confirmed reservation and who have checked in on time for their flight, who are denied boarding, onto the first available alternate flight to the passenger's ultimate destination on that affected part of their itinerary, no matter which airline this may be with or what the cost to the airline shall be, and in the same or superior class of service.

In addition, passengers shall be entitled to compensation based on the delays involved in completing their travels as per the provisions of the delay right, except that, no matter how short or long the delay, the passenger will be entitled to at least Level One compensation if a coach class passenger, and an unrestricted free ticket for the same itinerary in the same class if a premium cabin passenger.

A right to compensation if your luggage is delayed

Any passenger with delayed luggage shall be entitled to a $100 compensation payment.

If their luggage remains delayed after 24 hours, they shall be entitled to an extra $50 for each 24 hours or part thereof until such time as their luggage is returned to them or deemed to be lost.

The airline is responsible for conveying the delayed luggage to wherever the passenger currently is once the luggage has been found.  If the passenger is on a cruise ship, the airline shall convey the luggage to the next port of call where the passenger can then collect it.

If the passenger lost their luggage on their final flight back home, their entitlement for delayed luggage compensation shall be limited to $100.

The airline responsible for delayed, lost and damaged luggage shall be the airline that transported the passenger to the place where the passenger expected to receive their luggage.

A right to compensation if your luggage is lost

If a passenger's luggage is lost, they shall be entitled to reimbursement of the fair replacement value of the piece of luggage and its contents, up to a maximum of $2800 per person.

The passenger will be required to make an affidavit subject to penalties of perjury, listing the contents of their suitcase, item by item, and showing the fair market replacement value of each item in sufficient detail as to allow the airline to confirm the valuation.

No items that were lawfully packed into the checked piece of luggage shall be excluded from entitlement to reimbursement, up to the maximum payable.

Reimbursement already paid to the passenger while the luggage was deemed delayed rather than lost shall be in addition to the reimbursement now made for the loss of the luggage.

The airline responsible for delayed, lost and damaged luggage shall be the airline that transported the passenger to the place where the passenger expected to receive their luggage.

A right to compensation if your luggage was damaged

If a passenger suffers damage to items that were in their checked luggage, then the airline shall reimburse them for the cost of repair to a standard of appearance and/or functionality as if it had not been damaged at all, or the fair market replacement value of such items, up to a maximum of $2800 per person for all items claimed as a result of one leg on an itinerary.  The airline may choose which option it adopts, and if it chooses to repair, it will be obliged to make loaner comparable items available if this is reasonable and necessary.

If the item was not adequately packed and protected, the airline will be exempted from liability.  Adequate packaging shall be that standard of packaging required variously by the air courier companies and USPS.

If the suitcase itself was damaged, the airline shall either repair it or compensate for the fair market replacement cost of the suitcase, less a straightline ten year depreciation allowance.  The cost of replacing the suitcase shall comprise part of the maximum $2800 per itinerary leg liability.

If the airline opts to repair the suitcase, it will be responsible for arranging the suitcase to be transported to and back from a repair facility.  If the suitcase was damaged other than on the final leg of an itinerary, the airline must either repair the suitcase prior to the passenger needing it for their next itinerary leg or agree to pay for its depreciated replacement value.

The airline responsible for delayed, lost and damaged luggage shall be the airline that transported the passenger to the place where the passenger receive their luggage in a damaged state.

Claims for damage must be made by the passenger prior to leaving the airport after collecting the damaged luggage.

A right to not be trapped on a plane

If more than seventy five minutes elapse between when the last passenger boards a plane and when either the plane takes off or it aborts, returns to the gate, and commences deplaning passengers, and/or if more than sixty minutes elapse between when the plane touches down and when the first passenger steps off the plane, all passengers will be entitled to a Trapped On Board compensation and for an additional Trapped On Board compensation for each whole thirty minutes of extra time that this situation continues.

A right to a comfortable temperature

If a plane is incapable of and/or is not maintaining a temperature in the passenger cabin of at least 60 degrees and no more than 85 degrees, it will be deemed unsafe.  Passengers must not be allowed to board a plane that has a temperature outside this range, and if the temperate moves outside this range with passengers on board, the plane must be immediately evacuated and the plane taken out of service until its climate control system is corrected.

A right to assign a ticket to someone else

All tickets can be assigned to anyone else, except that tickets with special discounts relating to the type of passenger traveling (eg senior, military, child, government) can only be assigned to other people meeting the same qualifications.

If a passenger chooses to assign their ticket to someone else, they will advise the airline of this any time prior to checking in, and provide such normal details as the airline may require about the person replacing them.

Tickets can only be assigned prior to the first flight being taken, and must be assigned in full to one alternate passenger.

The airline may choose to charge a transfer fee, with such fee not to exceed the greater of 10% of the published fare (excluding taxes and surcharges) or $25.

Tickets can be repeatedly reassigned, with the airline levying the same fee each time it updates its passenger name record.

A right to fly or not fly

Passengers may travel on any, all, some, or none of the legs of a ticket's itinerary, including choosing to cancel any sectors of their journey, at any time, without incurring any penalty or extra cost.

A right to clearly understand flight details

So as to eliminate confusion about whether or not a journey involves changes of planes and/or stops en route, airlines must assign a unique flight number to every flight comprising a single take off and a single landing.

A right to clearly understand on-board comfort details

Airlines shall publish on their websites details about the seats in their different cabin configurations on their different planes.

This will include such information as

  • Effective seat width (from the inside of the left arm rest to the inside of the right arm rest)

  • Degrees of seat back recline, being the degrees of movement from fully upright to fully reclined

  • Pitch as measured from one point on one seat to the same point on the seat in front

  • Effective net pitch, being the distance from the front of the seat back half way up one seat to the back of the seat back, halfway up the seat back immediately in front

  • Face space, being the distance from the top of the back of the seat in front, when fully reclined, extended horizontally to where it meets the front of the seat back behind.

A right to clearly understand the cost of a ticket

The most prominently displayed prices shown in any promotion or fare description must be the total price, inclusive of all taxes and other surcharges, so that a passenger can pay exactly this sum and no more to get the travel as described (subject to availability), booking through the method implied in the information provided, and paying by a credit card accepted by the airline or other advertiser/fare promoter.

Airlines may not add temporary or permanent surcharges to their tickets, whether it be for regulatory compliance costs, fuel increases, insurance, ordinary or special operational costs, or any other thing, but instead must set a simple inclusive price for the tickets they sell, with the only exception to this being per passenger or per ticket taxes levied by the US government or other foreign taxing authorities.

Airlines may set their pricing at any level they choose, and vary it at any time they choose for any reason, including changes in their underlying costs, but the price they sell their tickets for will be shown solely as a single price, except only for taxes which may be shown separately, and in a manner such that the total price inclusive of taxes is also shown at least as prominently as the net fare before taxes and so there is no ambiguity as to which is the fully inclusive fare and which is the fare without taxes.

Any fares shown as one way will be available for purchase as one way without the need to purchase any additional flights, and can not be described as 'one way based on roundtrip purchase'.

A right to receive included products and services

If an airline customarily provides food or drinks or in-flight entertainment or lounge access or any other product or service as part of a flight, including also such things as a properly functioning seat and overhead light, and allocated seats (in terms of aisle or window categories) then passengers have a right to receive such things.

If any such item is not provided as normally, the passenger has a right to compensation.  Any such compensation will be not less than 10% of the ticket value, and at least $25, and may be such larger amount as is fair and appropriate.  In determining what is fair and appropriate, it is acceptable to include a penalty factor as well as a compensating factor, but in no case will the airline's liability exceed half the fare paid by the passenger for that sector.

A right to travel in the class of service booked

Airlines may offer upgrades to passengers without needing to pay compensation.

If an airline is forced to downgrade a passenger from the premium cabin they were booked and confirmed in, they shall refund the passenger in full and carry the passenger for free on the affected flight.

A right to speedy compensation

Every airline shall operate a toll free customer service line.

It will publicize the toll free number in type size the larger of either not less than 7pt or not more than 4pt smaller than the size of any other phone numbers and website addresses shown in all promotional materials.

It will provide sufficient incoming lines so 99% of callers never receive a busy signal.

It will staff this service at a suitable level so callers wait no longer, on average, to speak to a customer service representative than they would wait to speak to a regular reservationist if calling the regular toll free number to make a new booking, and in no event may hold times exceed five minutes.

Airline staff who take these calls will have sufficient authority to immediately resolve claims involving sums of less than $1000 per passenger without the need to seek supervisory approval.

Claims in excess of this amount must be resolved and the resolution communicated to the passenger claimant within 48 hours of being received.

If the airline needs extra information prior to ruling on a claim, it must communicate this need either at the time of the phone call for amounts less than $1000 per passenger, or within 48 hours for larger sums, and must respond with a resolution within 48 hours of receiving the requested information.

Ticket refunds, both for partially used and entirely unused tickets, and also for lost tickets, must be made and funds returned back to the passenger within fourteen days of the refund request being lodged.  A passenger does not need to submit any paperwork in support of a passenger refund receipt.

Agreed compensation must be received by the customer within fourteen days of the airline and passenger agreeing on the compensation.

If an airline does not meet these service guidelines, it will pay an extra $100 in compensation to the passenger for each 24 hours or part thereof of delay in resolving a dispute, and an extra $100 for each 24 hours or part thereof of delay in the passenger receiving the compensation agreed to.

Passengers must initiate claims within 30 days of the completion of their itinerary.

A right to have disputes heard in a local jurisdiction

In the event a passenger chooses to bring legal action against an airline to enforce these rights, the passenger may choose to bring the action in any competent local, city, county or district court, including, if the sum is within its limits, a small claims court, that is located within the general metroplex area of either the airport from which the flight the complaint relates to departed from or landed at, or, if the airline offers service to/from the passenger's home city, within the general metroplex area of that city, irrespective of where the flight problem occurred.

In any such action, the burden of proof shall be on the airline to show that it has conformed to the requirements of this Bill of Rights.

If the court finds for the passenger, it will be asked to consider whether the airline acted in bad faith in denying the passenger's claim.  If the court feels the airline did not apply a fair, large, and liberal interpretation to this Bill of Rights, it will increase the compensation awarded to the passenger by an amount of not less than $250 and not more than twice the amount originally claimed.

Automatic inflation adjustment

The monetary levels of compensation will increase every twelve months by the amount of the CPI increase during the past twelve months.

Compensation to be paid from general airline income

Airlines may not levy any additional charges to cover their anticipated or actual costs in meeting passenger claims but will instead fund such payments from their general income sources, and they are of course free to set regular ticket prices at any level they wish.

Disclosure of Passenger Rights

Airlines will print these passenger rights - either in full or in summary, with such summaries to be clearly marked as summaries - on ticket jackets, tickets, and boarding passes, and will have prominent signs referring to the passenger rights at all checkin points and boarding gates.

Upon request, the airline will give a complete copy of the Bill of Passenger Rights to any passenger.

The Passenger Rights will be prominently linked on airline websites, and referred to in all promotional materials.

Definitions

Affected Flights on an Itinerary :  A delay or cancellation in a single flight can conceivably cause a chain of problems throughout the itinerary.  In such a case, an airline is responsible not only for the single flight with problems but of other affected flights too.

A flight is deemed to be affected if either :

  • It can no longer be taken as originally ticketed due to the incoming/connecting flight no longer arriving in time

  • Changes/delays to the incoming flight into a stopover on an itinerary reduce the passenger's time at the stopover by more than 25%

An airline is only responsible for other affected flights if the flights are also on itself (or on a codeshare showing the airline's designator), or if they were ticketed (plated) by itself.

Cost of parts of an itinerary :  If a passenger becomes entitled to a refund for one part of an itinerary, and if this one part does not clearly have a value shown for it on the total ticket cost calculation, then the cost of this segment shall be deemed to be an equal pro rata part of the larger part of the ticket that does show a value and which this segment comprises, based on what proportion of the total miles it comprises.

Delayed Luggage :  Any piece of checked luggage is deemed to be delayed if it is not available for pickup in the usual manner at the usual place within one hour subsequent to the time the plane the passenger was on stopped at the gate and its engines were turned off.

The measured period of delay shall run from that time commencing one hour subsequent to the time the plane stopped at the gate and its engines turned off until such time as the luggage is returned to the passenger's then current address.

Flight Cancellation :  A flight is deemed to be cancelled when any of the following occurs :

  • A flight is rescheduled so that its departure or arrival time is such as to cause a mis-connect for an affected flight on the passenger's itinerary

  • A flight is rescheduled and now has an earlier departure time of at least 20 minutes which has not been communicated to the passenger

  • A flight is rescheduled, more than two days prior to day of departure, so that the passenger's itinerary for that portion of their travel ends up with more than a two hour change in either departure or arrival time for itineraries of less than 1000 miles, or three hours for itineraries of less than 1500 miles, or four hours for all other itineraries, except that any change in itinerary for which the passenger does not receive timely notification will be deemed to be a cancellation

  • A flight is cancelled and no longer operates with that same flight number and is not replaced by another flight at the same times but with a different flight number

Late Arrival :  The lateness of an arrival will be measured as between the normal scheduled time published by the airline for the flight and the actual time the first passenger steps out of the airplane.

Late Departure :  The lateness of a departure will be measured as between the normal scheduled departure time published by the airline for the flight and the actual time the plane pushes back from its gate.

Lost Luggage :  Any piece of checked luggage that is delayed for more than seven days may be deemed lost.

If the airline has positively identified the delayed item and is merely having problems returning it to the passenger, it shall remain as delayed.

The airline and passenger may mutually agree to change the designation of a piece of delayed luggage to 'lost' at any time, either before or after the notional seven day point.

Premium Cabin :  Means passengers who have business or first class type tickets for the flight in question, but excludes passengers with free upgrades to these cabins.

Timely Notification :  Timely notification is notification given within one hour of the event occurring which requires notification, if the event relates to a flight scheduled to occur within the next 24 hours, two hours if the flight is scheduled to occur within the next 48 hours, and three hours in all other situations.

If an airline has multiple phone numbers in its passenger record, it shall attempt to reach the passenger directly, using all phone numbers, and leaving messages at each and every phone number if possible, if the passenger is not able to take the call.  If an airline also has an email or pager or SMS or other means of contact, and if it can not make direct immediate voice contact, it shall also send emails and leave messages using these additional methods.

Compensation

The following are minimum levels of compensation.  Airlines and passengers may mutually agree on alternate compensation, including non-cash compensation in the form of travel vouchers or free tickets.

Non-cash compensation

If the passenger and airline agree on non-cash compensation in lieu of cash compensation as specified below, the airline shall clearly disclose what restrictions may apply to the non-cash compensation, including such details as :

  • If a travel voucher for a stated dollar value to be applied to any future travel purchases, when are the first and last dates this can be redeemed, and whether it can be redeemed for travel only in the name of the compensated passenger, or if it can be redeemed by other people instead, and if the value of compensation needs to be redeemed in a single transaction or in multiple transactions

  • If compensation is in the form of a free ticket or tickets, what restrictions apply to these tickets in terms of when are the first and last dates they can be redeemed, and whether they can be redeemed for travel only in the name of the compensated passenger, or if they can be redeemed by other people instead, and what restrictions apply on advance booking, changes, and inventory classes allocated.  In all cases with free tickets, they shall not have rules and restrictions placed on them that are more restrictive than those which apply to regular three week advance purchase fares (or, if the airline does not have three week advance purchase fares, such lesser advance purchase fare as is closest to three weeks)

Level One Compensation

$50 for flights of less than 750 miles, $100 for flights of between 751 and 1500 miles, and $150 for flights longer than 1500 miles.

Level Two Compensation

$75 for flights of less than 750 miles, $150 for flights of between 751 and 1500 miles, and $225 for flights longer than 1500 miles.

Three Hour Delay Compensation

A meal voucher and a prepaid phone card good for at least five minutes calling anywhere in the US

Overnight Delay Compensation

Coach class passengers traveling alone will be given a single room with private facilities at a nearby hotel of at least 'superior tourist class' standard, or, at their request, they may share a twin or double room with any other traveling companion.

Coach class family members traveling together will be given a twin or double room per two passengers at a nearby hotel of at least 'superior tourist class'.

Premium cabin passengers traveling alone will be given a single room with private facilities at a nearby hotel of at least 'first class' standard, or, at their request, they may share such twin or double room with any other traveling companion, no matter what the class of service their companion was booked in.

Premium cabin family members traveling together will be given a twin or double room per two passengers at a nearby hotel of at least 'first class', just so long as one of the family group has a premium cabin ticket.

All passengers will also be given roundtrip transfers between the airport and the hotel.

Passengers living in the nearby region may, upon agreement with the airline, accept cash compensation in lieu of the hotel accommodation and transfers.

Trapped On Board Compensation

$50 per passenger

Enforcement of the Passenger Bill of Rights

Most enforcement can be done by passengers filing small claims against the airlines for violations of their rights.

In addition, the FAA should make compliance with the Bill of Rights part of the certification process for all airlines licensed to operate in the US, just the same as they require maintenance and other aspects of the airline's operation to meet specified standards.

Drafting Note

This is currently draft version 2.1.  This document may be revised based on your suggestions and feedback.

Read more in Parts 1, 3 and 4

In Part 1 we outline the present problems and why it is we now need an Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.  Part 3 we tell you how you can help get this Bill of Rights passed, and part 4 is the Electronic Petition we need you to sign and support.

 

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Originally published 25 Feb 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
 

 


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