What do airlines owe you when you’re stranded?

posted at 6:31 pm on August 17, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

This particular thorn in my side has been itching for a while, and since I found some information on it, I thought it might be worth a look for those of you who travel regularly. I’ve had to fly a lot, mostly for business reasons, over the last two years in particular. While the majority of the flights have been mostly okay in terms of getting there in one piece and relatively on time (aside from the ubiquitous cramped conditions, lousy food and long lines), I seem to have had more than my fair share where things just went entirely pear shaped in terms of scheduling or logistics. Just in the month of June I had two back to back trips – one returning home from business and the next flying out to see relatives – where I arrived at my destination 27 hours and 13 hours later than planned respectively.

Both times the airlines made other arrangements for me on different flights and I wasn’t charged extra for the replacement tickets, but was I entitled to more for the delays? A recent study from CBS News indicates I might have been. They cover a number of scenarios, but being “bumped” from an overbooked flight is a big one.

If you are bumped in this manner, Department of Transportation rules require that you be compensated, and the compensation is generous. Indeed, in 2011 the agency doubled the eligible compensation that involuntarily bumped passengers are entitled to receive. If the airline is able to get you to your domestic destination within two hours of the original arrival time, you are entitled to a cash refund of twice the cost of the one-way ticket to a maximum of $650.

If the involuntary bump lands you in your destination more than two hours late, you are due an amount equivalent to four times the cost of your ticket to a maximum of $1,300. The rule is the same for international flights, except that the DOT defines “short” international delays (which net up to $650) as those that get you to your destination within four hours of the original arrival time. Those that get you to an international destination more than four hours late entitle you to $1,300.

I can assure you that while the nice people at the Delta counter were very apologetic and quick to try to schedule a new flight, nobody mentioned that to me.

Another scenario involves lost luggage. On one of the aforementioned flights, I was supposed to go from Tennessee through Detroit to New York, all in a matter of about six hours on a Thursday afternoon / evening. I actually wound up getting in just before midnight on Friday. My bags, however, promptly found their way to (wait for it)… Philadelphia. At my destination, they assured me that the bags would be on the first flight the next morning and they would deliver them to my house. Since they had done this for me before with no problems, I wasn’t terribly concerned. But though the bags did make it into town, they were handed off to a third party private delivery service who finally showed up late Sunday morning. As it turned out, I had some prescription medicine in one of them – my fault entirely for not keeping it in my carry on – so it was a real inconvenience.

The airlines apparently don’t have to reimburse you very much for a delay in getting your luggage, but if they lose it they are supposed to pay you.

If, for instance, the airline delivered your luggage a day late, you could file a claim for the cost of replacing necessary toiletries and, perhaps, one clean outfit. On the other hand, if it was permanently lost or went missing long enough that you lost the use of your packed items for the entire trip, the airline may be on the hook for the replacement cost of everything in your bag. This would apply, for instance, to people who are going on a cruise and must depart before the bag catches up to them, Hobica said.

The maximum replacement value for luggage lost on a domestic flight is $3,300. The maximum claim for luggage lost on an international flight amounts to 1,131 in special drawing rights, which is worth roughly $1,730 in U.S. dollars.

Nobody mentioned this to me either when it happened. So, for what it’s worth, think of this as a bit of a public service reminder. If you run into your own travel nightmares with the airlines, you can at least be prepared to demand they pay up to the full extent of the rules.


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These days, that all depends upon what race I am …

ShainS on August 17, 2014 at 6:36 PM

I refuse to fly anywhere anymore, so if I’m stranded it’s because my vehicle broke down and I can’t raise any bars on my phone to call for help.

I don’t give a damn about the airlines anymore.

Diluculo on August 17, 2014 at 6:37 PM

I hate flying, but I hate driving long distances even more. Delays (due to weather, etc.) is a given. However, nothing is worse than trying to get on the next flight, and it’s already full. I was stuck in Atlanta for hours trying to get on the next flight to Jacksonville/New Bern; both flights were full, and I ended up flying to Raleigh, renting a car and driving.

I would pay more money if it was an important flight and I was to be guaranteed priority on the next connecting flight (i.e. bump someone else off if needed). How much more?…about 1/3 again the price of the ticket (so flight was $300, I’d pay another $100).

So if anyone out there is an executive for an airline, if this economically enticing, go for it!

m064404 on August 17, 2014 at 6:40 PM

I refuse to fly anywhere anymore, so if I’m stranded it’s because my vehicle broke down and I can’t raise any bars on my phone to call for help.

I don’t give a damn about the airlines anymore.

Diluculo on August 17, 2014 at 6:37 PM

Same here. Haven’t flown in 9 years. Look at all the times I’ve missed being groped by TSA.

Bitter Clinger on August 17, 2014 at 6:42 PM

cool story bro

Say NO to fascism. Say No to militarized police force in American cities.

coolrepublica on August 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM

Once upon a time I used to travel A LOT. On the order of 200,000 miles per year and more. This coincided with (but was unrelated to) the dot.com era, and a company called BizTravel.com launched the BizTravel guarantee:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/milesbuzz/2493-biztravel-guarantee.html

The compensation rates are:
30 min $100
1 hr $200
2 hrs full ticket price
cancelled full ticket price

They basically paid you for all sorts of previously uncompensated travel nuisances from short delays to wrong meals to late arrivals. It was goofy in the extreme but it was apparently underwritten by the participating airlines and it was automatic — once your flight arrived late a check was on the way.

Needless to say they got 100% of my bookings from that point until they closed up shop, and there’s never been a time where I felt so ambivalent about getting to my destination on time. :-)

SoRight on August 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM

I’ve taken the Jerry Pournelle rule: if it is within 500 miles I’ll drive there as it is just as fast as going by plane.

That extra hour and other stuff to buffer time adds to your total travel time. Waiting for baggage increases travel time. Tack on all the extra travel time it takes to go by air and 500 miles might actually be expanded a bit…

And if it is beyond that, forget it.

ajacksonian on August 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM

I’ve flown nearly every year since 2007. For the most part, all my flights have gone very well. Only one was the flight from hell and it caused me to arrive over six hours late at 3am. I’ve never flown American again and all is well.

joekenha on August 17, 2014 at 6:53 PM

I had Delta lose my luggage on both legs of a trip, there and back, about 15 years ago. Never flew them again.

When you actually do get a real meal on a flight, I have no complaints. Never minded airline food. What I mind is the extra 5 bucks for “snacks” because idiots will change airlines based on that lousy $5, so everything becomes an extra.

WitchDoctor on August 17, 2014 at 7:02 PM

I spend about 200 nights a year in hotels, and in the past 12 months have taken approximately 50 flights, so it’s a subject that’s near and dear to me.

I think you’ve had a bad run of luck. In those 50 or so flights, I’ve had one that was delayed more than 2 hours – it was out of Cleveland in February, and their airport has free WiFi so it wasn’t a terrible experience. I have had none cancelled, and I’ve never been bumped. No lost luggage either. By my corporate guideliness I have to fly what is cost-effective, so in the past year I’ve flown Southwest, United, Delta, American and USAirways.

For flying, my rule of thumb is 5 hours: if I can get there in 5 hours by car, I drive. If not, I fly. Most seasoned travleres these days at the very least get TSA Pre so they/we can skip the long lines. I actually got my Global Entry clearance, which takes some work but is worth its weight in gold if you travel internationally much, which I do.

Most airlines offer upgrades to Economy Plus or something similar – you get more legroom and occasionally a bigger seat. If you’re not checking for that upgrade (anywhere from $20 to $100) then you are asking to be bumped, cramped or annoyed. I’ve upgraded to First Class multiple times this year, and it is worth every penny.

The most annoying part of modern travel is people who think/know exactly what they’re entitled to. Rather than exercising patience, they make demands at the counter, they gripe about security procedures that have been in place for a decade or more, and they think the attendants are a mix of concierge and counselor/babysitter. The attendants are there for your safety – everything else is a bonus. Grown-ups don’t get on a plane hungry or without a bottle of water/soft drink – if you do, that’s your problem.

People with a sense of entitlement tend to wreck life’s pleasures and conveniences. Regarding flight, Louis CK has an epic bit about this that sums it up.

If you travel a lot and don’t have GOES, you should get it – it’s through US Customs and Border Patrol – http://www.cbp.gov/global-entry/about

King B on August 17, 2014 at 7:03 PM

I worked for an airline for few years. one day I helped taxi a/c over from hangar to gate, walked out into ticket area then had to go through excessive tsa patdown to get back on it for a flight to DFW for training.
the idiot watched me get off a/c then did this. he also watched me go in and out of areas he didn’t have access too and still did it.
he didn’t allow me to use my crutch during the 20-30 minutes he was messing with me.
that was last time I flew, told them to send trainers to me or fire me but I was not flying again.
they sent trainers up to me.
I will not fly, I’ve seen pissed of mechanics purposely damage a/c and fake inspections reports and could not fire them due to union BS.
I’ll drive if I need to go someplace.

dmacleo on August 17, 2014 at 7:04 PM

I only fly once a year, for a conference. 600+ mile drive to Virginny is preferable, even if part is the western half of the PA turnpike. Hate that construction zone. I-95 isn’t as bad.

rbj on August 17, 2014 at 7:06 PM

Set Ontario Airport Free from the clutches of corrupt Los Angeles politicians and unions.

It’s not their airport and they have deliberately turned it into a ghost town.

Easy to fly from, though. I arrived at the ticket counter ten minutes before departure and mad it through security and to the gate in time to make the flight. Try doing that at one of the “big box” airlines.

LAX is horrible. Haven’t flown in or out of there in 15 years.

MichaelGabriel on August 17, 2014 at 7:19 PM

Hmm, that’s weird. Did the HA filter system filter out my comment? The only reason that I can think of is because I referred to the third party that dropped of my luggage a week after I landed as ‘w3tbacks in a pickup truck.’ Weird.

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:24 PM

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:24 PM

Ask Annoying Little Twerp about using that term. I think that’s what got her locked up in the stockades for a while.

MichaelGabriel on August 17, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Who books a flight from Tennessee to New York through Detroit? Did that $20 you “saved” offset the headache incurred?

Jedditelol on August 17, 2014 at 7:35 PM

Southwest use to fly between Jax and Norfolk VA several time a day, straight shot an hour and fifteen minutes. That was a no brainer over a ten hour drive but that flight doesn’t exist anymore and it is usually a short layover and no 3 to 5 hour trip. I drive.

Cindy Munford on August 17, 2014 at 7:40 PM

Flying makes no sense unless it would otherwise be at least a 2 day drive.

forest on August 17, 2014 at 7:43 PM

MichaelGabriel on August 17, 2014 at 7:30 PM

What strange filter priorities at HA. I jokingly used the term ‘honkey’ in a Ferguson riot post yesterday. That didn’t get filtered. Is ‘honkey’ worse than ‘w3tback’?

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:43 PM

Oops, reverse that. I meant Is ‘w3tback worse than ‘honkey’?

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:44 PM

If you’re Central American apparently the airlines now owe you citizenship.

viking01 on August 17, 2014 at 7:49 PM

What strange filter priorities at HA. I jokingly used the term ‘honkey’ in a Ferguson riot post yesterday. That didn’t get filtered. Is ‘honkey’ worse than ‘w3tback’?

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:43 PM

One of those words will get you banned here at HA.

RickB on August 17, 2014 at 7:55 PM

WhatSlushfund on August 17, 2014 at 7:44 PM

Yep. Speech control in full effect in the good ole US of A.

MichaelGabriel on August 17, 2014 at 8:05 PM

cool story bro

Say NO to fascism. Say No to militarized police force in American cities.

coolrepublica on August 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM

This crap is straight up spamming; doing it on every thread. Deserves a time-out, I believe, or so I’ll communicate to the PTB.

Dolce Far Niente on August 17, 2014 at 8:06 PM

I haven’t flown in 17 years. I never liked to fly anyway. So I drive a lot, but whenever possible I take the train. Living in the western US that’s not often possible and when it is, it’s never on time but I love that journey. I just wish it went more places. Most people here hate Amtrak, I love it.

Shay on August 17, 2014 at 8:08 PM

My 11 year old daughter and I flew out of LAX to Topeka Kansas to visit my sister a few years back. TSA requirements change hourly so one never knows what to expect; we arrived about 45 minutes early and were told we had to check our bags on the sidewalk outside the terminal, within 30 minutes of takeoff. We stood in line for 10 minutes or so and when we reached the head of the line we were told we couldn’t check our bags because it was 27 minutes to takeoff.
“But we got in line 10 minutes ago!”
“Sorry.”
“Can we catch the next flight?”
“You’ll need to buy tickets for it.”

“Nuts to that”, I whispered to my Little Princess. “C’mon.”
So we went inside and opened our suitcases. “Put on as many clothes as you can. We’re gonna WEAR our luggage! These assholes can’t treat US this way!”
As we sat in our airline seats, I was not able to fully relax until the plane took off, for fear our abandoned suitcases would be found in the terminal and we would be hauled off the plane.

We had a wonderful summer vacation with my sister in Topeka…

jbspry on August 17, 2014 at 8:09 PM

they gripe about security procedures that have been in place for a decade or more

While I agree with the rest of your post, I should point out that longstanding nonsense is still nonsense.

The TSA are still unfit for purpose. Their unionization and 10th birthday only make things worse.

jangle12 on August 17, 2014 at 8:17 PM

Reminded me of this classic:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

JetBoy on August 17, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Thanks, JS.

Sherman1864 on August 17, 2014 at 8:30 PM

So, Jazzie is ignorant of a couple of more facts.
Stop the presses!

corona79 on August 17, 2014 at 9:10 PM

they gripe about security procedures that have been in place for a decade or more

While I agree with the rest of your post, I should point out that longstanding nonsense is still nonsense.

The TSA are still unfit for purpose. Their unionization and 10th birthday only make things worse.

jangle12 on August 17, 2014 at 8:17 PM

I won’t argue with you b/c you’re correct. That said, when you get TSA PRE or GOES, then you don’t do the Kabuki theater – shoes stay on, laptop in bag, and all is right with the world.

King B on August 17, 2014 at 9:14 PM

When my son missed his flight from Lubbock, after his plane was late getting off the ground in London due to mechanical problems…United put him up in a nice hotel and gave him a meal voucher. they also booked him out on the first flight out for the next day.
He was quite please with the treatment he received.

annoyinglittletwerp on August 17, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Flight TO Lubbock.
Long day.

annoyinglittletwerp on August 17, 2014 at 9:20 PM

What do airlines owe you when you’re stranded?

I’ll take two fifths of The Balvenie Doublewood and the last two good-looking young stewardesses working in the industry, thank you very much.

M240H on August 17, 2014 at 9:27 PM

While the majority of the flights have been mostly okay in terms of getting there in one piece and relatively on time (aside from the ubiquitous cramped conditions, lousy food and long lines)

You forgot: Sometimes… it’s a dildo.

Ugly on August 17, 2014 at 10:15 PM

Airlines owe you nothing. Let the free market work. If an airline gets delayed all the time, your response should be: don’t fly that airline any more.

The last thing we need is more government intervention in the marketplace.

nazo311 on August 17, 2014 at 10:26 PM

At least a soccer ball and a teddy bear.

Flange on August 17, 2014 at 10:31 PM

I’ll take two fifths of The Balvenie Doublewood and the last two good-looking young stewardesses working in the industry, thank you very much.

M240H on August 17, 2014 at 9:27 PM

I’ll take a 21 year old Glenlivet…you can have the stewardesses tho ;)

JetBoy on August 17, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Nazo, I think part of the problem is there’s a high percentage of 1: people who are flying the first time and have no idea what is good/bad. 2: ppl flying at the behest of another agency (company) that has no view of anything but the $$ figure. IMHO this distorts the market. Or a purist might say this IS the market. Which sucks for the rest of us.

WitchDoctor on August 17, 2014 at 10:41 PM

Corporate time is valuable. Now yours on the other hand…not so much.

Ultimately, they don’t owe the customer anything beyond a ticket to go from point A to point B. But, it’s been a while since I’ve flown and never really paid any attention in the first place, but I can only imagine that the company has a disclaimer on the ticket contract that says they may not be able to get you to your destination in the stated time period.

Overall, the lack of interest in the comfort of the passenger is pretty appalling in this industry. I do get that competition is fierce on many routes, and that they’re going to squeeze in every passenger and cut every corner they can. I think they take it a bit too far sometimes.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 17, 2014 at 10:44 PM

We recently started travelling more and so got our KTN (Known Traveler Number) from the TSA. Fairly painless and getting the expedited security line is well worth it for some airports and flight times.

If we ever start travelling internationally, other than say Canada, we’ll get the GOES clearance as well.

BUT, if I can travel it in a day and I’m not in some sort of time crunch, I’ll go by car. Transportation is then not a problem and I can stop and eat at places along the way that beat airport food for the most part.

It is nice to have a list of penalties the airline can incur if something happens, though, Jazz. Thanks.

ProfShadow on August 17, 2014 at 11:00 PM

I was stuck in O’Hare last year due to a snowstorm on the East coast.

A woman scheduled on my flight was SCREAMING at the gate agent to get her on a plane, NOW.

I must have missed the part where United Airlines can turn the weather on and off. Every day, Idiocracy becomes more and more a documentary.

DarthBrooks on August 17, 2014 at 11:34 PM

Jazz continues to hold the title of most annoying blogger here.

While complaining about his travel experiences and griping that the airlines didn’t offer compensation, he says nothing about why he was delayed. If he was not involuntarily bumped from the flight, none of the stuff mentioned applies. Flights being canceled are different according to the rule. Same with delayed flights.

Those penalties are not there for when airlines have problems with your flight and you are delayed. They are for when the is NO problem with your flight and the airlines screwup costs you.

OBQuiet on August 17, 2014 at 11:43 PM

If airlines keep you out of Newark do you owe them for protecting your personal safety>

viking01 on August 18, 2014 at 12:20 AM

Wonder when they’ll start charging stranded passengers a per hour fee if they sleep in the airport?

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 18, 2014 at 1:45 AM

If you travel a lot and don’t have GOES, you should get it – it’s through US Customs and Border Patrol – http://www.cbp.gov/global-entry/about

King B on August 17, 2014 at 7:03 PM

Long time international and domestic traveller here, and I echo everything you said King B.

Global entry is the best thing that ever happened for international travellers. You not only get to by-pass the immigration lines by using the kiosk, you get to by-pass the customs lines as well (in many airports).

The only thing I would add is to register as a “trusted traveller” with GOES at the website. Once you have a trusted traveller designation, TSA pre-check is automatic.

BacaDog on August 18, 2014 at 8:09 AM

If you “volunteer” to get bumped and get another flight, you lose all your claims for compensation.

Thats why they ask for volunteers if they overbook a flight. Wouldn’t it be awesome if no one volunteered, and they all stood there and demanded their fair compensation? If this occurred, and was nationwide, it would take about 3 days for the airlines, airports, and FAA to figure out how to operate the air transportation system without delay.

The financial cost to the airlines would put them out of business in less than a week.

BobMbx on August 18, 2014 at 11:13 AM

Wonder when they’ll start charging stranded passengers a per hour fee if they sleep in the airport?

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 18, 2014 at 1:45 AM

You’re getting ahead of the process. Step 1 is to ban sleeping in airports, being subject to a stiff fine and/or arrest.

Step 2 is for the airports to offer nap rooms, which can be rented by the hour.

See how that works?

BobMbx on August 18, 2014 at 11:15 AM

What do airlines owe you when you’re stranded?

How about ’3 squares & a cot’ ?
After all it could be considered ‘incarceration’, sorta?
And if you value your time it is most certainly punishment.

Missilengr on August 18, 2014 at 1:46 PM

TSA and the airlines have turned flying into an “elective root canal”-type experience.

landlines on August 18, 2014 at 2:15 PM

“What do airlines owe you when you’re stranded?
posted at 6:31 pm on August 17, 2014 by Jazz Shaw”
Now when Dems whine about demanding that they get all these outrageous payouts Hot Air folk are all in a dither. What hypocrisy!
Whatever happened to Jack Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you ….”? though of course he really didn’t mean it as his VP LJB later showed in his absurd, catastrophic “Great Society” “War on Poverty”
The few of us that actually work for a living have to pay for it all, God save us. Soli Deo gloria!

russedav on August 18, 2014 at 3:01 PM