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US Air Passenger Rights

US Air Passenger Rights

Anton Radchenko
Reviewed by a licensed lawyer.
Last Updated: June 11, 2024

With the surge in flight delays in early 2023, the highest number recorded since 20141, understanding your air passenger rights has become more critical than ever.

Last year, the US Department of Transportation reported that the United States had a 1.8% flight cancellation rate. Looking at it another way, this means that for every 10,000 flights, 180 were canceled. At the same time, US airlines had a 79% on-time performance rating which means that 21% of US flights were delayed. With statistics like these, it’s more important than ever to be aware of your rights as an airline passenger.

In this article, we provide a thorough guide to US air passenger rights, including upcoming regulatory changes, so you can understand precisely what you're entitled to when traveling by air in the States.

As legal experts who’ve handled over 250,000 flight claims internationally over the last 7 years, AirAdvisor will successfully defend your air passengers' rights when seeking compensation for airlines. Enter your flight details below to get started.

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What Are the Rights of an Air Passenger in the US?

In the US, your air passenger rights are protected by the Department of Transportation (DOT)2, as passed by Congress3. Understanding these rights is particularly important if you encounter flight delays, cancellations, denied boarding situations, or missed connections.

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It’s important to note that a flight disruption caused4 by weather or air traffic control is not compensated for in any country.

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Flight Delays

In the US, airlines are not required by law to provide compensation to passengers for flight delays no matter how long they last. However, you can expect to be informed about the delay as soon as possible and given an explanation for the delay as well as updates every 30 minutes.

Some airlines may provide their passengers with their own form of compensation to make up for the hassle and inconvenience of a delay. While cash isn’t usually part of these packages, most US airlines will offer miles, vouchers, and hotel accommodation. If your delay is extensive, then the airline should give you a rebooking on a different flight at no extra charge. 

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If you have a delay of more than 3 hours on a domestic flight, you can also ask for a rebooking at no extra cost or demand a full ticket refund.

International Flight Delays

If your international flight is delayed by 6 hours or more, you can also ask for a full ticket refund or a rebooking. Otherwise, you will be protected by the airline regulations in the region or country where you’re traveling. If you’re flying to Canada, you will be protected by their regulations for flight disruptions. Similarly, if you’re traveling to the EU or UK, you can depend on the air passenger rights regulations provided in EU261 and UK261. For international flights to other areas, check to see if you’re protected by the rules of the Montreal Convention.

Itinerary

EU Airline

UK Airline

Non-EU/ Non-UK Airline

Departure from the UK / EU with Arrival in the UK / EU

✔️ Covered

✔️ Covered

✔️ Covered

Departure from the UK / EU with Arrival outside the UK / EU

✔️ Covered

✔️ Covered

✔️ Covered

Departure from OUTSIDE the UK / EU with Arrival in the UK / EU

✔️ Covered

✔️ Covered

❌ Not Covered

Departure from OUTSIDE the UK / EU with Arrival OUTSIDE the UK / EU

❌ Not Covered

❌ Not Covered

❌ Not Covered

Tarmac Delays

Tarmac delays happen when your plane has landed or is about to take off but is prevented from proceeding because of gate congestion, mechanical issues, issues with air traffic control, or other problems.

In the U.S., the Department of Transportation has set specific rules concerning these kinds of delays that you can see below.

  1. If your domestic flight delay on the tarmac lasts for 3 hours, the airline must allow you to deplane.
  2. International flights must allow passengers to get off the plane once the tarmac delay extends to 4 hours. Failure to do so may result in fines from the DOT of up to $27,500 per passenger5. To avoid paying these fines, airlines typically offer smaller compensations to passengers.

If the pilot feels that it is unsafe for passengers to deplane, say for example if there is severe weather, then these rules don’t apply. Likewise, air traffic control can prevent passengers from deplaning if they feel that moving to a gate would cause too much of a disruption to the airport’s operations.

Regardless, if you’re a passenger during a tarmac delay, you must be given food and water once the delay reaches 2 hours. The airline must also allow you to use the restroom and provide any medical attention to those who need it.

Again, the US doesn’t have any rules requiring airlines to compensate you for tarmac delays, you can usually expect the carrier to offer some form of recompense for the discomfort and inconvenience. This may come in the form of extra miles, vouchers, or even cash compensation.

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Flight Cancellations

As with delays, airlines in the United States aren’t required to provide financial compensation to their passengers for canceled flights. There are, however, certain air passenger rights in place to ensure that you’re treated fairly when you experience cancellations.

First, if your flight is canceled in the US, you have the right to choose between a rebooked flight and a full refund (ticket price as well as any additional money spent on things like upgrades, baggage, or other amenities). If you decide to go with the refund then the airline must give it to you within 7 business days if you used a credit card. If you used other forms of payment, then the airline has 20 calendar days to send it to you.

Because individual airlines in the US make their own rules and policies for these situations, you may find that some carriers will provide you with meals, refreshments, or even hotel accommodation if your rebooked flight doesn’t leave until the following day.

Involuntary Denied Boarding or Bumping 

If you’re denied boarding because your flight was overbooked, then you can get compensation from the airlines depending on your situation and how soon you get to your final destination. Here’s how it works.

If you’re bumped from an oversold flight, and you accept an alternate flight from the airline then you can get up to $775 in compensation if:

  • You get to your final stop between 1 and 2 hours past your planned arrival time for domestic flights
  • You get to your final stop between 1-4 hours past your planned arrival time for international flights 
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If your alternate flight arrives at your final destination more than 2 hours for domestic flights or more than 4 hours on international flights, you can expect the airline to compensate you as much as $1,550.

You should get your compensation payment from the carrier the same day and while you’re still at the airport. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered vouchers in lieu of cash compensation. You’re free to accept these of course, but just know that you do have a right to demand what you’re due in cash. 

Lost, Delayed, Damaged Baggage

Baggage mishandling is another situation where airlines in the US will provide cash compensation to their passengers.

  • On US domestic flights, if your baggage is lost or damaged, you can expect up to $3,800 in payment from carriers to cover the cost of your belongings. You may also be reimbursed for any money you had to spend on replacement or temporary items while your bags were missing. You can learn more about baggage mishandling compensation in the US here.
  • On international flights, your rights are protected by the Montreal Convention that limits compensation to roughly $1,700 (1,288 Special Drawing Rights) per passenger.

Refunds in the US

In April 2024, the US DOT made new refund rules that provide passengers better protections.

These new rules require airlines to provide passengers with automatic refunds (within 7 days if you used a credit card and 20 calendar days if you used other forms of payment) when faced with a flight cancellation or ‘significantly changed’ flight, and a rescheduled flight isn’t accepted.

The term ‘significantly changed’ means that you are delayed more than 3 hours on a domestic flight or 6 hours on an international one.

Having your flight significantly changed can also mean:

  • A different connecting airport from what you originally planned, 
  • A seating class downgrade
  • Getting changed to a different departure or arrival airport 
  • Having more connections added to your itinerary
  • Getting a less accessible flight or airport if you’re disabled
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Filing Complaints

As a passenger, traveling within the US or on a US-based airline, you have the right to file a complaint directly with the airline or the Department of Transportation (DOT). Moreover, you have the right to seek legal remedies if your rights are violated.

Below, you can explore the complaints process with three well-known US-based airlines:

American Airlines

American Airlines is a key player in the airline world with a vast route network. However, passengers sometimes experience issues, from delays to onboard service concerns. US air passenger rights ensure compensation for significant disruptions, baggage issues, extended tarmac delays, and involuntary bumping.

However, they don't cover minor inconveniences, uncontrollable events like weather, or individual staff grievances unless they breach defined rights. After lodging an American Airlines complaint, responses can take between 3 weeks to 2 months.

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AirAdvisor can offer assistance with compensation claims for disrupted EU/UK American Airlines flights and will soon support baggage compensation claims.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines stands as a prominent figure in the aviation industry, boasting a comprehensive flight network. However, passengers still encounter challenges, ranging from flight delays to baggage concerns. Under US air passenger rights, travelers can claim Delta Airlines compensation for notable disruptions, issues with baggage, prolonged tarmac waits, and instances of involuntary bumping.

These rights don't extend to minor inconveniences, unforeseen events such as weather disturbances, or specific complaints about staff behavior, unless they violate established passenger rights. When raising a concern with Delta Airlines, expect a response time ranging from 30 to 60 days.

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United Airlines

With its extensive global presence, United Airlines is a significant player in the skies. Still, like any major carrier, passengers can face hiccups, from unexpected flight interruptions to overbooking. Under the US air passenger rights, those traveling with United Airlines have entitlements for compensation due to significant delays, baggage concerns, extended periods on the tarmac, or being bumped off flights involuntarily.

However, this protective umbrella doesn't cover trivial inconveniences, unpredictable situations like sudden bad weather, or isolated issues related to crew interactions, unless they contravene preset passenger rights. When addressing a complaint with United Airlines, you can anticipate a response in around 30 days.

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For travelers who've had disruptions on EU/UK United Airlines routes, AirAdvisor is at the ready to assist in claiming rightful compensations, with the added promise of soon expanding its services to cover baggage-related claims.



The 24-hour refund rule

This provision, mandated by the DOT, allows you the option to hold or cancel your flight reservation, penalty-free, within 24 hours of booking, provided you made the booking at least 7 days prior to departure. This applies to even the most basic level of economy tickets, including those deemed non-refundable.

Airline Chargeback

Should you struggle to exercise these changes, you can use the chargeback process. This process involves contacting your credit card company or bank to cancel the transaction, ‌facilitating the option to make a new booking. It's essential to note that this process is governed by a specific time limitation of 60 days, so prompt action is highly recommended.

My Rights in Case of a Flight Disruption

Your Rights When You Have Flight Disruptions

In this section, we illustrate the various commitments made by US-based airlines in cases of controllable cancellations and delays, in addition to passenger rights mandated by EC261, UK261, and the Montreal Convention compensation.

Commitments for Avoidable Cancellations

Here, we outline the provisions and compensations you can anticipate if a US-based airline cancels your flight scheduled to depart from US territory when the disruption could have been avoided:

Commitments for Avoidable Cancellations

Commitments for Avoidable Delays

Below, we detail the measures and compensations you can expect if a US-based airline delays your flight set to leave from US soil, assuming the delay was preventable:

Commitments for Avoidable Delays

Can you get compensation for a delayed flight?

Currently, no federal laws mandate US airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays, leaving compensation terms to individual airline policies. However, if the flight originates from the EU or UK or is a US-bound flight operated by an EU/UK carrier, passengers could be entitled to up to $670 in compensation for delays exceeding 3 hours upon arrival.

Additionally, the Montreal Convention comes into play for international flight delays, allowing passengers to seek reimbursement for direct incidental costs or damages. It's crucial to review the airline's specific policy regarding delays, or utilize the AirAdvisor free eligibility checker to determine potential compensation rights.

Can you get compensation for a missed connecting flight?

At present, US laws do not mandate airlines to compensate for missed connections. Compensation rules vary between airlines; we advise that you check the individual airline's policy to ascertain potential remedies and compensations in such cases unless you traveled to the EU or UK in which case you can refer to the relevant information above.

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New Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights (Proposed Changes)

In an effort to further protect air passengers in the US, a new bill has been drafted and is expected to be introduced in the Senate soon. Here is a summary of the significant changes that are being proposed:

For Delays Between 1 and 4 Hours, the Airline Will be Mandated to:

  • Automatically refund the full ticket amount to the passenger.
  • Arrange alternative transportation, either on another flight operated by them or a different air carrier, to ensure the passenger reaches their destination within 4 hours of the originally scheduled arrival time, without imposing any additional costs on the passenger.

For Delays exceeding 4 Hours, the Airline Will be Mandated to:

  • Automatically refund the full ticket amount to the passenger.
  • Provide the option of alternative transportation at the earliest opportunity, if the passenger chooses, without any extra charges.
  • Offer a cash compensation of $1,350 to the passenger.
  • Cover the cost of a meal for the passenger.

For Overnight Delays, the Airline Will be Mandated to:

  • Compensate for the cost of hotel lodging, along with fulfilling the criteria mentioned in the points above.

These proposed amendments aim to enhance your air passenger rights when traveling in the US on a US-based airline, promising better treatment and compensation during flight delays and cancellations. Once enacted, they'll ensure a more structured and automatic response from airlines to minimize the inconvenience you experience in the case of a flight disruption.

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Common Questions and Answers on US Air Passenger Rights

If you still have questions surrounding US airline passenger rights, you may find some of them answered in this final section below:

Can I claim compensation under US law in case of a 3-hour flight delay?

The US doesn’t currently have federal regulations6 that require airlines to compensate passengers for delayed flights, regardless of the length of the delay. This is unlike the EU/UK regulations which compensate passengers for delays of 3 or more hours.

Does EU261 apply to the US?

EU261, the European regulation concerning air passenger rights7, covers you if you're flying back from the EU/UK on a US airline, or flying on an EU/UK-based carrier to/from the US. In such cases, you may be eligible for up to 0 in compensation for flight disruption.

Are passengers entitled to compensation in the US?

While there's no federally mandated compensation for delayed flights within the US, passengers could be eligible for compensation in cases of involuntary bumping or flight cancellations, dependent on the individual airline's policies.

Regarding your bags, if they're permanently lost on domestic flights, airlines can be held liable for up to ,800. For international jaunts involving the US, the Montreal Convention caps this compensation at approximately

Can I claim compensation under US law in case of a 3-hour flight delay?

The US doesn’t currently have federal regulations6 that require airlines to compensate passengers for delayed flights, regardless of the length of the delay. This is unlike the EU/UK regulations which compensate passengers for delays of 3 or more hours.

Does EU261 apply to the US?

EU261, the European regulation concerning air passenger rights7, covers you if you're flying back from the EU/UK on a US airline, or flying on an EU/UK-based carrier to/from the US. In such cases, you may be eligible for up to $670 in compensation for flight disruption.

Are passengers entitled to compensation in the US?

While there's no federally mandated compensation for delayed flights within the US, passengers could be eligible for compensation in cases of involuntary bumping or flight cancellations, dependent on the individual airline's policies.

Regarding your bags, if they're permanently lost on domestic flights, airlines can be held liable for up to $3,800. For international jaunts involving the US, the Montreal Convention caps this compensation at approximately $1,700 per passenger.

If your travel involves the EU/UK or Canada, the compensation dynamics shift. EU/UK regulations can entitle you to up to €600/£520 per passenger for disruptions, while Canadian regulations might allow claims up to CAD$880 for significant flight delays8.

It's imperative to familiarize yourself with the specifics based on your flight route and the airline's stipulations. If you ever find yourself in a bind, remember that AirAdvisor is on standby to aid with compensation claims.

What do I do if my flight gets delayed or cancelled?

Should you face a flight delay or cancellation, it's essential to determine your eligibility for compensation, reimbursement, or a refund. Here's a guide to aid your process:

  • Immediately note down the reason for the disruption; compensation might not apply for reasons like weather or air traffic control.
  • Always retain receipts for any incidental expenses you incur due to the disruption.
  • Avoid accepting vouchers, unless they're directly for food or taxis.
  • Keep a record of your boarding passes. Taking a photo can be handy for future reference.
  • Remember, you can claim a refund even on nonrefundable tickets, primarily to recoup airport taxes and fees.

You can easily check your compensation eligibility on the AirAdvisor site for free. If you qualify, you can then seamlessly lodge a claim through us. Our expert team handles the details, and we only charge for successful claims (and take the fee from your compensation payout) meaning no upfront costs for you.

Can you cancel airline tickets within 24 hours of booking?

Yes, the DOT mandates that passengers can hold or cancel flight reservations, penalty-free, within 24 hours of booking if the reservation was made at least 7 days before departure, even for "non-refundable" tickets.

What is Airline Chargeback?

Airline chargeback is a process where you contact your credit card company or bank to cancel a transaction, allowing you to rebook if needed. This must be done within a 60-day window from the transaction date.

,700 per passenger.

If your travel involves the EU/UK or Canada, the compensation dynamics shift. EU/UK regulations can entitle you to up to €600/£520 per passenger for disruptions, while Canadian regulations might allow claims up to CAD0 for significant flight delays8.

It's imperative to familiarize yourself with the specifics based on your flight route and the airline's stipulations. If you ever find yourself in a bind, remember that AirAdvisor is on standby to aid with compensation claims.

What do I do if my flight gets delayed or cancelled?

Should you face a flight delay or cancellation, it's essential to determine your eligibility for compensation, reimbursement, or a refund. Here's a guide to aid your process:

  • Immediately note down the reason for the disruption; compensation might not apply for reasons like weather or air traffic control.
  • Always retain receipts for any incidental expenses you incur due to the disruption.
  • Avoid accepting vouchers, unless they're directly for food or taxis.
  • Keep a record of your boarding passes. Taking a photo can be handy for future reference.
  • Remember, you can claim a refund even on nonrefundable tickets, primarily to recoup airport taxes and fees.

You can easily check your compensation eligibility on the AirAdvisor site for free. If you qualify, you can then seamlessly lodge a claim through us. Our expert team handles the details, and we only charge for successful claims (and take the fee from your compensation payout) meaning no upfront costs for you.

Can you cancel airline tickets within 24 hours of booking?

Yes, the DOT mandates that passengers can hold or cancel flight reservations, penalty-free, within 24 hours of booking if the reservation was made at least 7 days before departure, even for "non-refundable" tickets.

What is Airline Chargeback?

Airline chargeback is a process where you contact your credit card company or bank to cancel a transaction, allowing you to rebook if needed. This must be done within a 60-day window from the transaction date.

 

Sources:


1On-Time Performance - Reporting Operating Carrier Flight Delays at a Glance

2Us Department of Transportation. Aviation Consumer Protection

3Congress.gov | Library of Congress

4Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes

5Tarmac Delays and Airline Passenger Rights

6The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)

7EU Air passenger rights

8Flight Delays and Cancellations: A Guide

9Travelers | Federal Aviation Administration

10Air Travel Consumer Reports

11 Airlines for America

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