7 Passenger Rights You Must Know Before Flying Home for the Holidays

From delays to cancellations, your travel peace of mind is non-negotiable.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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Millions of people fly home for the holidays, and this hectic time sometimes results in issues with your travel plans.

If something goes wrong with travel this holiday season, it’s essential to know your rights. Having this knowledge can help make holiday travel as smooth as possible.

So, step up your travel game by learning about the following key air travel rights established by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

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Full disclosure of the cost of airfare

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Finding the most affordable flight to your destination is up to you, as is reading the fine print to ensure you know of any extra charges you could face.

However, you have the right to know the total cost of your ticket upfront, including any taxes and fees.

While an airline has the right to charge you for the cost of a checked bag, it doesn’t have the right to dramatically increase that price with no warning or explanation.

Compensation for being bumped from a flight

Song_about_summer/Adobe businessman at airport lobby with luggage

Airlines aren’t legally required to financially compensate you if your booked flight is canceled or delayed. Still, the airline might do so anyway. After all, it’s good customer service to keep travelers happy.

On the other hand, domestic airlines do have to compensate you if they bump you off a flight list because they overbooked the flight.

No more than 3 hours of waiting on the tarmac

alexbrylovhk/Adobe man at airplane window seat

According to the DOT, planes are only allowed to idle on the tarmac for three hours.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as when safety and security issues arise or when moving the plane would significantly disrupt airport operations.

Plus, the airline is required to give passengers food and water no later than two hours after the delay begins. Restrooms must remain open and accessible the entire time you’re on the tarmac.

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Compensation for lost bags

Andrey Popov/Adobe female traveler upset for losing luggage

If an airline loses your bag, it must compensate you for it — but there are limits on how much an airline is obligated to pay for a lost bag.

Currently, that limit is $3,800, although the Department of Transportation re-evaluates this cap every two years to adjust for inflation. Some airlines will allow you to purchase higher coverage limits.

Details about how to lodge a complaint

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All domestic airlines are legally obligated to give customers upfront information about the process they should follow to lodge a complaint. You should see these guidelines on each company’s website and with each e-ticket confirmation.

You also must be provided with information about lodging a complaint if you ask for it at the airline’s gates and ticket counters.

The right to receive a response to your complaint

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Along with guaranteeing your right to complain to an airline, you also have the right to receive a “substantive” response from the airline within 60 days.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the airline is required to make major policy changes based on your complaint, but it can't let your complaint go unanswered.

Specific rights if you have disabilities

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The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) functions as a bill of rights for disabled travelers. Those rights include — but aren’t limited to — the right to:

  • Be treated with dignity and respect
  • Receive assistance both on and off the plane
  • Travel with a service animal or assistive device
  • Seating accommodations

What don’t travelers have a right to?

4frame group/Adobe business woman in hurry at airport

While you have a lot of rights as a passenger, there are certain things you don’t have the right to.

For instance, as frustrating as it seems, you don’t have the right to be compensated for domestic flights that are canceled or delayed. An airline might compensate you, but that’s based entirely on company policy, not on any federal rule.

Additionally, airlines aren’t required to offer low prices, guarantee delay-free travel, or ensure enough space in the cabin for every passenger to stow a carry-on item.

It’s also important to understand just how far your rights stretch. For example, although airlines must compensate you for lost baggage, they don’t necessarily have to compensate you in all cases of spoiled or damaged goods.

They also aren’t required to wait for every passenger to arrive before closing the doors. You should expect above-average wait times at security screenings during the holiday season, so try to arrive early to ensure you make it to your gate in time.

Remember, it’s largely up to you to ensure your holiday travel matches your expectations.

Bottom line

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Traveling with your rights in mind can make the experience go a little smoother for everyone.

In addition to knowing your rights, it’s important to engage in some good travel practices that will help you avoid a bad travel experience.

Check the airline’s rules before your flight to find out what to expect in the event of a cancellation. Some travel credit cards also offer travel insurance coverage for flight cancellations.

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Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.