Airline & Baggage Information

Airline & Baggage Information

On this page you will find information covering the following subjects:


Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip. There are many things that can-and often do-make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Weather that had been forecast to improve can instead deteriorate, or a mechanical problem can turn out to be more complex than initially determined.

If the problem is with local weather or air traffic control, all flights will probably be late and there’s not much you or the airline can do to speed up your departure. If there’s a mechanical problem with the plane for your particular flight or if the crew is delayed on an incoming flight, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you don’t have to pay a cancellation penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. (It is sometimes easier to make such arrangements from a pay phone than at a ticket counter.) If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier; this could save you a fare increase.

Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.  Airline delays and cancellations aren’t unusual, and defensive counter- planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration. When booking your flight remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due to “ripple” effects throughout the day.  A change of planes always involves the possibility of a misconnection. If you have a choice of connections and the fares and service are equivalent, choose the one with the least-congested connecting airport, so it will be easier to get to your second flight.  When making your reservation for a connection, always check the amount of time between flights.

Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for “no-shows.” Passengers are sometimes left behind or “bumped” as a result. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.

Voluntary bumping
Our rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for some compensation before bumping anyone in- voluntarily.  If you’re not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight.

Airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price.

Involuntary bumping
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights. Those travelers who don’t get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. No compensation is due if the airline arranges substitute transportation which is scheduled to arrive at your destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time.

If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination, with a $200 maximum.

* If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (200% of your fare, $400 maximum).

* You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket for the flight you were bumped from. The denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience.

The most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. On oversold flights the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline.  Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference.  Finally, don’t be a “no-show.” If you are holding confirmed reservations you don’t plan to use, notify the airline.

Damaged Baggage
If your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for repairs. The same holds true for belongings packed inside. Airlines may decline to pay for damage caused by the fragile nature of the broken item or inadequate packing, rather than the airline’s rough handling.  But airlines generally don’t disclaim liability for fragile merchandise packed in its original factory sealed carton, a cardboard mailing tube, or other container designed for shipping and packed with protective padding material.

Delayed Baggage
If your bags don’t come off the conveyor belt, report this to the airline before you leave the airport. Insist that they fill out a form and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. If the form doesn’t contain the name of the person who filled it out, ask for it.  The airlines have very sophisticated systems that track down about 98% of the bags they misplace and return them to their owners within hours. In many cases they will absorb reasonable expenses you incur while they look for your missing belongings. You and the airline may have different ideas of what’s reasonable, however, and the amount they will pay is subject to negotiation.

Most carriers set guidelines for their airport employees that allow them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases.  If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities.  For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to absorb only a portion of the purchase cost, on the basis that you will be able to use the new items in the future.  If you can’t resolve the claim with the airline’s airport staff, keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, and hold on to all travel documents and receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling.

Lost luggage
Once your bag is declared officially lost, you will have to submit a claim.  The airline will usually refer your claim form to a central office, and the negotiations between you and the airline will begin.  Airlines don’t automatically pay the full amount of every claim they receive.  Like insurance companies, airlines consider the depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs.  They often ask for sales receipts and other documentation to back up claims, especially if a large amount of money is involved.  Generally, it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage.

Limits on liability
If your bags are delayed, lost or damaged on a domestic trip, the airline can invoke a ceiling of $2,800 per passenger on the amount of money they’ll pay you.  When your luggage and its contents are worth more than the liability limit, you may want to purchase “excess valuation,” if available, from the airline as you check in.

On international round trips that originate in the United States, the liability limit is set by a treaty called the Montreal Convention.  Unless you buy excess valuation, the airline’s baggage liability on a trip covered by the Montreal Convention is limited to 1,000 “Special Drawing Rights” per passenger. The value of the SDR changes daily; see

This international limit also applies to domestic segments of an international journey.

We have tried to provide you general information about airline travel. It is important to realize, however, that each airline has specific rules that make up your contract of carriage. These rules may differ among carriers.

Domestic Travel
For domestic travel, an airline may provide all of its contract terms on or with your ticket at the time you buy it.  Other airlines may elect to “incorporate terms by reference.” This means that you are not given all the airline’s rules with your ticket-most of them are contained in a separate document which you can inspect on request.
If an airline incorporates contract terms by reference and fails to provide the required notice about a particular rule, the passenger will not be bound by that rule.

International Travel
Not all of the detailed requirements for disclosing domestic contract terms apply to international travel.
Airlines file “tariff rules” with the government for this transportation. Every international airline must keep a copy of its tariff rules at its airport and city ticket offices. You have a right to examine these rules. The most important point to remember, whether your travel is domestic or international, is that you should not be afraid to ask questions about a carrier’s rules.

When passengers comment on airline service, most airlines do listen. They analyze and keep track of the complaints and compliments they receive and use the information to determine what the public wants and to identify problem areas that need special attention.  While you do have some rights as a passenger, your demands for compensation will probably be subject to negotiation and the kind of action you get depends in large part on the way you go about complaining. Before you call or write to DOT or some other agency for help with an air travel problem, you should give the airline a chance to resolve it. They can arrange meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers, write checks for denied boarding compensation, arrange luggage repairs and settle other routine claims or complaints.

If you can’t resolve the problem at the airport and want to file a complaint, it’s best to call or write the airline’s consumer office at its corporate headquarters.  Keep all of your travel documents (ticket receipts, baggage check stubs, boarding passes, etc.) as well as receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses that were incurred as a result of the mishandling. Here are some helpful tips should you choose to write a letter.

  • Type the letter and, if at all possible, limit it to one page in length.
  • Include your daytime telephone number (with area code).
  • No matter how angry you might be, keep your letter businesslike in tone and don’t exaggerate what happened. If the complaint sounds very vehement or sarcastic, you might wait a day and then consider rewriting it.
  • Describe what happened, and give dates, cities, and flight numbers or flight times.
  • Send copies, never the originals, of tickets and receipts or other documents that can back up your claim.
  • Include the names of any employees who were rude or made things worse, as well as anyone who might have been especially helpful.

If you follow these guidelines, the airlines will probably treat your complaint seriously.