In our year-end editorial meeting, my boss/executive editor commented about the amount of writing I've done about the various trip delays I've had this year. "People are going to start to think you're the unluckiest traveler in the world," she told me. And looking back at all my travels in 2012, I'm starting to agree with her. Out of all the flights I took, I was forced into a trip delay on at least four of them - and outright missed my connections twice. Based on those numbers, I might be pretty unlucky this year. But in the same stroke, I've also been pretty lucky in the fact that I've turned a lot of those delays into bonus points and credits.
Non-frequent travelers may not know that there are several laws out there to protect you and help get you to your destination - all depending on where you're going to or from, or how you're getting there. As a result of all of my travels, delays, and cancellations this year, I've made myself learn about what rights are available to me. It also helps that, as a result of all the hurricanes and winter storms this year, the media has done a better job of bringing attention to flyer's rights.
So what can you do if you're behind a trip delay or a trip cancellation? Traveler advocate FlyersRights.org offers the following tips:
- Know when you can and can't get off the airplane
Once the doors to the airplane are closed, you're stuck on the plane, right? Yes and no. Once the doors are closed, you are under the control of the airline and are obligated to follow the directions of the pilot and flight crew. But if the flight is delayed for three hours or more, the airplane must return to the gate and allow passengers to deplane - unless doing so would disrupt regular airport operations, or create a security problem.
- Know when you can and can't get information
If your going to have a trip delay on your flight, your airline is obligated to give information about the delay every 30 minutes after the scheduled take off, and continue to do so until your flight is departed. This allows you to be in control and understand the situation at hand, and allow you to make reasonable accomodations to get where you're going. If you're not getting this information on a regular basis, its okay to ask - just be polite when you do so, and understand that the gate agents are possibly just as stressed as you are.
- Know when you can ask to take another flight
Before airline deregulation in 1978, all airlines operating in the United States had to comply with FAA Rule 240. What was Rule 240? If a flight went under a trip delay or trip cancellation, the airline you flew was obligated to transfer passengers to another carrier if that other carrier could get you to your destination faster. Since airline deregulation, this rule has become obsolete - however, under the conditions of carriage that every airline files with the FAA, many airlines still have a variation of this rule. If you're worried that you may be under a trip delay, check with your airline to see their version of this rule, and under what options you can elect to exercise that right.
By knowing your rights when flying, you can better prepare yourself to ride out a trip delay or trip cancellation. Preparation is always the best thing to pack when taking a major trip - and knowing these tips could be just as important as packing your lucky sweater.
Has knowing your rights helped you in the midst of a trip delay? I'd like to know about it - leave me a comment below with how you negotiate your way through a trip delay.