It's that time of year again. The unofficial start of the busy holiday travel season begins Wednesday, bringing with it the haggle of airports, train stations or even bus depots. When the frustration mounts, sometimes it's hard to know what rights a person has in getting to or from their Thanksgiving destination.
What are passenger rights on airlines?
Air travelers have benefited from recent federal requirements to protect passengers. The most recent requirements that took effect earlier this year force airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in published airfares and that they disclose baggage fees to ticket buyers. Previously, airlines listed government-imposed taxes and fees separately from the advertised fare. These so-called "hidden fees" are now a thing of the past.
Passengers may also hold a reservation without payment or cancel without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made, as long as the reservation is made one week or more prior to the departure date. Airlines must also promptly notify passengers of flight delays of more than 30 minutes. The same holds true for cancellations and changes.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation mandated that airlines refund baggage fees if luggage is lost and provide increased compensation to passengers bumped from oversold flights. Airlines also have a four-hour time limit on tarmac delays for international flights and a three-hour time limit for domestic flights. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the requirements were put into place because passengers "should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when booking a trip and when they fly."
There are no rules requiring refunds, although some airlines may elect to do so. Instead, most airlines will offer the value of the ticket toward a future flight. Don't be late to the gate or else airlines can cancel a passenger's reservation, even after he or she has checked in.
To get an up-to-date summary of your airline passenger rights, you can visit the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fly-Rights page.
Passenger rights on the ground
The U.S. Department of Transportation also regulates Amtrak. Traveling by bus also has very limited passenger rights. Greyhound is the most accessible bus line in the country. If a bus is late, that doesn't entitle a passenger to a refund. Greyhound is not liable for any weather, traffic or mechanical delays. Greyhound also prohibits destination changes.
Should a passenger not be able to make the trip, unused tickets are good for a period of one year from the date of purchase. Departure dates and times can be changed, but at a fee. Greyhound also institutes certain holiday blackout restrictions.
It's estimated that nearly 50 million people will travel this Thanksgiving week. The Transportation Security Administration has some helpful tips to help make your travel experience as stress-free as possible. You can access the TSA's Helpful Hints for Holiday Travelers Checklist here.
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