Your friendly federal government has rules that give you certain rights against those behemoth airlines.
If you are in a U.S. airport, then you have some protection against tarmac delays, which occur when an airplane is awaiting takeoff or has just landed and passengers do not have the opportunity to get off the plane. During the delay, the airline is required to provide you with working toilets, comfortable cabin temperatures, and adequate medical attention if needed.
The airline has to provide you with a notification of the status of the delay every 30 minutes.
After a 2- hour delay, the airline must provide you with a snack and drinking water.
After 3 hours for a domestic flight and 4 hours for an international flight, the airline has to provide you with an opportunity to get off, unless there is safety, security or air traffic control-related reason for the delay. Caveat: your luggage may not deplane when you do.
Let’s move on to “bumping”, which happens when the airline requires you to give up your seat.
It is, unfortunately, legal. Most bumping happens when the airline oversells its flight.
Before a passenger can be bumped, the airline is required to ask passengers if they are willing to give up their seat voluntarily in exchange for compensation. There is not a set amount for the compensation – so feel free to negotiate with the airline. If the airline offers a reduced rate ticket, free ticket or voucher, then the airline has to tell you about any restrictions on the deal. Before accepting, you should always ask about whether you can get a confirmed seat of the next flight; accepting a standby ticket could mean you will be in for a very long wait.
If not enough passengers accept the bump offer, then you could become a victim of the dreaded “involuntary bump.” You are not entitled to compensation if the bump is the result of an aircraft change to a smaller plane, there is a weight and balance issue for planes with less than 60 passengers, your flight is a charter flight or a small aircraft, or your flight is an international flight to the US. You are entitled to compensation if you are bumped for an oversold flight and you checked in and arrived on time for a confirmed reservation and the airline cannot otherwise get you to your destination within 1 hour of the original arrival time. Compensation varies from 200% to 400% with a dollar max on the allowed amount.
Now let’s talk about disability. Airlines are prohibited from discriminating against you because of your disability. They are required to provide you with many types of assistance, including wheelchair assistance, seating accommodations, and storage of devices. The rules can be found online here.
If you think your rights are being violated, then politely make your position known.
If there is not a satisfactory resolution, then complain in writing to the Department of Transportation and the airline.
Virginia is President of Hammerle Finley Law Firm and is a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. Sign up for her newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org.