Airline Passenger 'Rights': More Circumstance Than Law


These are firm airline policies which an agency cannot override. Agencies such as Expedia simply abide by them. And when you have a problem such as this, your best bet is to pursue alternatives with the airline's agents on the spot, not the agency. If you get charged extra, it's because of the airline, not the agency.

Delayed Baggage

Another reader, annoyed that his baggage didn't arrive on his flight, asked about delayed baggage:

"When my bag doesn't arrive on my arriving flight, what are my rights to compensation? Does the airline have to pay for interim expenses?"

The short answer, at least for most airlines, is, "They promise to get your bag back to you as soon as possible. If you're no longer at an airport, they'll deliver it to your home or hotel, and most say they'll cover interim expenses."

Here are the exact statements from their customer service plans or contracts of carriage:

  • Alaska: "Please purchase any essential and reasonable items you need while your baggage is missing," including necessary clothing and toiletries; keep receipts, and claim expenses.
  • American: "When customer baggage is delayed, an American Airlines/American Eagle Baggage Service Representative may authorize reasonable interim expenses to purchase items necessary for immediate use."
  • Delta: "Delta requires that receipts be presented for all reasonable expense reimbursements incurred due to the delay of a passenger's bag. Reasonable expenses generally are $50 for the first 24 hours and $25 per day for the next four days the bag is delayed. The guidelines for reasonable expenses are NOT daily limits or a cap and additional expenses may be incurred and should be handled on an individual basis up to the limit of liability."
  • United: "United will be responsible for reasonable and verifiable expenses related to baggage delays for purchases such as toiletries."
  • US Airways: "When customers have made a claim within four hours of flight arrival and baggage is delayed for 24 hours or longer after making a claim, US Airways provides our customers interim expenses to purchase toiletries and clothing."
  • As far as I can tell, Continental, JetBlue, and Southwest either don't post official delayed baggage policies or bury them so deeply in their websites that I can't find them. But, in my experience, they generally do about what the other lines do.

Thus, most lines help out with essentials when your bag is delayed. But that's all you get – no additional cash, voucher value, or frequent flyer miles. And, obviously, that "reasonable expenses" limit means reasonable: No Armani suits or Dior gowns.

No Refund for Schedule Changes?

Another reader experienced a problem that I would not have expected:

"I had a nonrefundable ticket on JetBlue, but two weeks before my flight, the airline changed the flight schedule. I had planned a meeting at JFK during my connection layover, but the new schedule gave me no opportunity for the meeting. So I cancelled the flight and asked for a refund. Imagine my surprise when the airline refused to give me a refund. Instead, it offered full cash value toward a future JetBlue ticket, which I could use for a ticket for anyone. Is this right?"

My short answer here is, "No it's not right, but airlines do a lot of things that aren't right."

I checked the contracts of carriage for the eight largest lines, as above, and found that their contract provisions regarding schedule changes are all about the same:

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