Beyond the fact that you don’t have too many, what do you know about your rights as an airline passenger? If you said “not much,” then you’re in good company.
Like Judy Williams. When the airline lost her luggage en route to a conference in Asheville, N.C., a representative promised to find it. But by the time she was reunited with her suitcase two days later, she’d already attended a professional conference wearing jeans and a T-shirt — not ideal attire for an attorney.
Did I say attorney? I sure did. Even someone who practices law doesn’t necessarily know her rights.
“The airline said it would reimburse me the cost of half of one of my outfits,” she says. “Was that fair? I wish I’d known what my rights were.”
The issue of what we know — and should know — will be considered at an upcoming meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection (ACACP), a congressional committee that advises Congress on air travel consumer issues. Advocates want airlines and airports to do one simple thing: Tell consumers what their rights are when they fly.
Williams probably had more rights than her airline led her to believe.
For bags missing more than 24 hours, an airline normally pays for a change of clothes, and if the loss is permanent, federal law requires the airline to refund her baggage fee and sets the limit of liability at $3,400.
Airlines are profiting from passenger ignorance, says Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a non-profit organization that advocates for air travelers. “It can’t continue,” he says.
As the consumer representative on the ACACP, he’s one of the advocates pushing airports and the Transportation Department to place billboards in American airports that notify passengers of their rights.
(Disclosure: I’m co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance and serve as its volunteer ombudsman.)
The proposed notices are modeled on a voluntary European Union campaign launched in 2007 to inform passengers of their travel rights.
A U.S.-based campaign would notify travelers of their rights in the event they’re denied boarding, have their checked luggage lost, or experience a flight delay or cancellation.
But it’s easier said than done. Some of your rights are a work in progress, with new proposed government rules expected to be released soon. Even travel experts can’t keep up.
Also, something as simple as tacking posters to an airport wall would require the blessings of airlines, airports, local municipalities that own the airports, and the federal government.
As you might expect, airlines are cool to the idea. Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an airline trade group, says U.S. airlines have “long supported passenger rights” and that today, customers know exactly what they are buying when they book a ticket. “Information for consumers about their rights is available on every major airline’s website and is easily accessible,” she says. But the industry would oppose a mandate to place posters at airports because it would be overkill.