Celebrate National Aviation Day by knowing your rights as an airline passenger and by practicing some simple etiquette at the airport and aboard your flight. Both will help make negotiating today’s crowded airports and packed planes less stressful.
National Aviation Day is observed on August 19 in the USA to celebrate the history and development of the aviation industry and passenger flight. It coincides with the birthday of Orville Wright who, together with his brother Wilbur, made significant contributions to powered flight.
Much has changed since their historic flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, including airline passengers being dragged off planes for refusing to give up their seat on an overbooked flight, lost luggage, complaints about airline fees for everything from being allowed to sit with the rest of your family to ticket change fees.
The main rule is to stay calm and courteous, no matter how frustrated and even angry you might be.
Help make the line move faster by emptying your pockets and removing remove your belt, shoes, laptop and liquids before you get to the front of the line. That includes removing watches and jewelry.
Watches and jewelry should be zipped inside a bag or purse. Do not simply place them into one of the plastic buckets, where glittering valuables it might be lifted by another passenger while you are waiting to go through the x-ray machine.
Be sure all liquids are in the appropriately sized containers before heading to the airport. Remember the TSA 3-1-1 rule: 3-ounce bottles that fit inside one resealable one-quart see-through plastic bag (medications and what’s described officially as infant and child “nourishments” are extempt from the 3-1-1 rule).
- tip – speed your way through airport security lines with TSA Pre-Check
Airlines routinely overbook flights to avoid an empty seat if there’s a no-show. You could be bumped to make way for a crew member who must get somewhere, or a passenger who paid twice what you paid for the same flight, or for arriving too late to meet the airline’s requirements for check-in, boarding, or both.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, fewer than one of every 10,000 airline passengers is bumped involuntarily, but that still makes headlines when there is an ugly scene like a doctor being dragged off a flight for refusing to give up his seat (shown here), or a political commentator going on a Twitter rampage because her seat got switched.
- tip – avoid being bumped by checking in within the required time. One way to do that is to check in online within 24-hours of your flight.
There are two types of bumping – voluntary and involuntary. Let’s take them one at a time.
There are no US DOT rules for voluntary bumping. Each airline sets its own, including dollar limits on what the gate attendant can offer. Generally, the offer improves the longer it takes for a passenger to step up and give up his or her seat. A few years ago, I willingly gave up my seat to a young military wife who would otherwise miss her connection to see her husband on leave from deployment in the Mideast, and introduce him to their newborn baby. The airline upgraded me to First Class on the next flight, and I wound up sitting next to a movie actor I admired.
If the airline offers you a free ticket or a transportation voucher in a certain dollar amount, be certain to ask about restrictions before you accept. Before you volunteer, make sure the pay-off is worth it.
Questions to ask before you accept:
- Is it possible to get cash rather then a flight voucher?
- If not, is the flight voucher valid long enough to last until you need it?
- Does it apply to all fares, even the lowest, most restrictive fares?
- Are there blackout dates, especially during holiday periods when you might want to use it?
- Will you get a confirmed reservation, or will you be on standby for another oversold flight?
- Can it be used for international flights?
There are strict US DOT rules for involuntary bumping – and lots of them. But it depends on the price of your ticket and the length of the delay until the airline can get you to your destination. Here are the most important ones:
If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation.
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 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 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, to 400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum.
On flights using aircraft with 30-60 passenger seats, compensation is not required if you were bumped due to safety-related aircraft weight or balance constraints
Note that passenger rights for overbooked flights in the EU are different than rules for flights within the USA. See overseas passenger rights here.
If you have a small disagreement with another passenger, first try to resolve it among yourselves. If the problem escalates or continues, ask a flight attendant for assistance, since they are trained to defuse such situations and you are not. That includes seat-kicking or banging by an unruly child behind you, and loud media by the passenger next to you. Crying children are another matter, because the parents are likely just as frustrated and anxious as you are.
photo of Wilbur and Orville Wright flight courtesy of Kitty Hawk, NC official website
photo of airline passenger being dragged off flight courtesy Daily Star UK
cartoon of airline seat courtesy Daily Mail UK