Tips to navigating airline travel in 2024

It’s important for travelers to know their rights

Airline travel can be stressful, and knowing how to navigate last-minute changes, delays, and disruptions to your itinerary can be even more stressful. 

As part of this year’s Consumer Protection Week, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shared its best insights for consumers to utilize when they're flying. This includes everything from knowing your rights when flights are canceled or delayed, when bags go missing or when you’re suddenly bumped from a flight. 

“Airline travel has often been unreliable for years as the airlines struggled with post-pandemic staffing and logistics,” wrote Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “Almost every airline has had at least one disastrous weekend with mass cancellations during the last couple of years. We could be past the worst, but it’s still best to plan for possible problems.” 

What are your rights as a traveler?

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund has created a Flyer’s Bill of Rights that details everything consumers need to know when flying, including information about canceled or delayed flights, rebooking, tarmac delays, getting bumped from flights, flight delays, delayed bags, lost or damaged bags, and filing complaints. 

Airlines are required to give travelers a full refund, including ticket prices, taxes, baggage fees, extra charges, and ancillary fees if the carrier cancels the flight. Many airlines will cover the cost of a transfer ticket to another airline if your original ticket has been canceled; however, this isn’t required by law. 

If your flight is significantly delayed or canceled because of staffing or equipment issues, or any other reason within the airline’s control, you have options. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that: 

  • Six of the 10 major airlines will rebook you on another airline for no extra charge. 

  • All 10 major airlines will provide a meal voucher. 

  • Nine of the 10 major airlines will pay for hotels and ground transportation if you’re stuck somewhere overnight. However, you may have to ask them to do so. 

What about bags? 

Sometimes, you end up at your destination but your checked bag doesn’t. What is the protocol for travelers? 

  • Most airlines will reimburse flyers for necessities, like a change of clothes or toiletries, if bags are delayed. 

  • When bags are completely lost, travelers should receive reimbursement for any baggage fees as well as up to $3,800 for the items inside. 

As a consumer, you’re also entitled to file a complaint with either the airline or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Any complaints filed with airlines must be acknowledged within 30 days, and responses must be sent in writing within 60 days. 

Tips before you book a flight

Before you book your next trip, there are many things you can do to help reduce your stress levels when you get to the airport. Some tips from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund include: 

  • Be careful about booking through third-party ticket websites. While they may offer a discount, when it comes time for a refund or rebooking, it’s often more difficult through these sites, as opposed to navigating the specific airline’s website. 

  • Flying early in the morning reduces your chances of delays or other mishaps. 

  • Limit how often you book connecting flights, as this can also reduce the likelihood of delays, cancellations, or other frustrations. 

  • There are resources online to look at a flight’s statistics in terms of on-time arrivals and departures. This can help you know if you’re more likely to get stuck in a long delay. 

  • Avoid a checked bag when possible. However, if you do need to check a bag, put a tracker in it so you know where your bag is at all times. It’s also recommended to take pictures of everything that’s inside your checked bag in the event the bag gets lost and you need to file a claim. 

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