Traveling can be stressful because of everything that can go wrong, especially with the ever-changing situation in security regulations. It’s important to know your traveling rights, which vary by country and region, and insist on them if you ever are put in less-than-ideal circumstances that are the transport providers’ fault.
This is NOT legal advice, so that’s why we’ve linked to other sources and official websites – please use these tips about airline passenger rights, as well as traveling on trains and planes, as a starter resource to educate yourself on your legal rights as a traveling passenger.
Airline Passenger Rights in the U.S.
You enjoy a lot of rights if you travel by air in the United States. Most problems occur due to delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights. You are entitled to compensation only if you are bumped from a flight because it is overbooked. If a flight is overbooked, the airline must ask for volunteers to be bumped to a later flight before removing people from the flight against their will. You also have the right to negotiate compensation with the airline before agreeing to be bumped to a later flight. If you are bumped involuntarily from a flight, the airline must give you a written statement telling you what compensation you are entitled to. You are not entitled to compensation if you are bumped because you arrived at the airport less than 90 minutes before the flight left.
You also have rights if your airplane is delayed once you board it. Federal regulations prohibit airplanes to sit on the tarmac for more than three hours unless there is a medical or safety reason for the long delay. If you get stuck on an airplane that is sitting for hours, the crew must allow you to use the bathroom as needed and you must get food and water no more than two hours after the delay begins.
When it comes to airport security, you have the right to choose between a full-body scan or being patted down at the security line. If you choose to be patted down or are asked to be searched further, you must be searched by a security officer who is the same gender as you. Transgender passengers must be searched by an officer who is the gender they appear as regardless of legal gender.
If any of your rights are violated or you feel uncomfortable with anything that happens on your flight, you can complain to the airline. All airlines must make contact information available on their websites and on the bottom of printed materials such as tickets. You can also lodge a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
Airline Passenger Rights in Canada
Canadian passengers have similar rights to passengers in the U.S. In addition, passengers have the right to reasonable fares. Airline fares in Canada are regulated by the federal government; airlines must explain the reasons behind their fares in language passengers can understand and must provide fares that are competitive.
Passengers in Canada have the right to an explanation and reasonable compensation if a flight is delayed or cancelled. For example, if a flight is delayed significantly and passengers have to go to a hotel overnight, the airline must compensate the passengers for their hotel stay.
Canada takes complaints very seriously; each airline is required to have a person dedicated to taking and resolving complaints available to passengers at all times. See this person if you have a problem or feel your rights have been violated. You can also call each airline at its toll-free number. Airlines may not have waiting times that exceed 10 minutes on their customer service lines.
Airline Passenger Rights in the European Union
The European Union requires airlines to compensate passengers if their flights are cancelled or delayed by more than five hours. You have a choice between getting money for your ticket or being placed on a different flight. If your flight is more than three hours late arriving to its destination, you also have the right to compensation. However, you cannot receive compensation for cancelled flights if you were informed of the cancellation more than two weeks before the flight was scheduled to depart.
If you feel your rights have been violated, you must fill out a complaint form and give it to the local airline enforcement department listed on the EU website. For UK residents there are also several companies that provide holiday compensation support.
Airline Passenger Rights Elsewhere
Airline passenger rights elsewhere in the world vary based on what country you’re flying out of. Countries in volatile areas may exclude delays due to political unrest from general policies related to compensating passengers for cancelled or delayed flights, and security procedures may be more extensive in some countries. Most countries have a department of transportation; you should contact this department prior to flying to find out what your rights are as well as if you believe your rights have been violated.
Australia has similar rights to the United States and Europe, but there is an attitude in Australia that you are agreeing to the airline’s treatment of you when you purchase a ticket. You can lodge a complaint with the Fair Trading Practice Department in the state you flew out of if you have a problem with an Australian airline.
Laws Covering Train Travel
Train travelers in Europe have rights as well. If a train is delayed by more than an hour, passenger have the right to compensation for their ticket. Passengers in Europe also have the right to compensation if they are injured, and their families have the right to compensation if their loved ones are killed in a train accident. Passengers can lodge complaints with the Department of Transportation in the area they were traveling.
There are no such rights for train passengers traveling in the United States and Canada.
Laws Covering Boats and Cruises
Cruise passengers departing from the United States have a limited amount of time to demand compensation for injuries suffered on board cruises. There is no compensation for delayed or cancelled cruise departures. The only way to complain is to file a lawsuit against the cruise within six months of the event.
Cruise passengers departing from Europe have the right to compensation if their cruise is delayed in leaving or arriving by more than 90 minutes. Passengers who are affected may lodge a complaint with the appropriate Department of Transportation.