SEATTLE — About 3.55 million travelers are expected to fly over Independence Day weekend according to the American Automobile Association, crowding airports and facing possible obstacles during their travels.
As of Tuesday afternoon, over 2,300 flights in the United States were delayed, and over 550 were canceled, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. SeaTac Airport had 83 delays and 13 cancellations on Wednesday as of 3:00p.m.
A delayed or canceled flight can seem like one of the biggest hindrances when you’re traveling, but it’s far from the only issue.
Unexpected overnight stays, lost luggage and overbooked rental cars continue to plague travelers, but you do have consumer protection rights. If you find yourself in a difficult situation at the airport, here are your rights as a customer and potential solutions to airport-related problems.
Your flight is delayed, canceled or you’ve been bumped
One of the most common problems at an airport is arriving just to find your flight has been delayed, canceled, or in some instances, that you’ve been bumped to a different flight.
Issues such as bad weather and air traffic delays are hard to predict for airlines; therefore, customers aren’t entitled to a refund or compensation for a delay, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The department does encourage customers to ask airline staff if the airline would pay for meals or a hotel room if a lengthy delay is expected.
Airlines must also provide passengers with information on a change in flight status at least seven days before the flight. Once you’re within the seven-day window, the only thing that will delay or cancel your flight is unforeseeable circumstances.
SeaTac airport’s traffic has almost returned back to pre-pandemic levels, and this summer travelers can expect it to be busy.
“We did set a record with the number of travelers going through the airport since the pandemic during the Juneteenth holiday. The projections don’t see it as busy for July 4th but the summer overall is the busiest time of the year for us, so June through August will be busy,” Perry Cooper, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Media Relations Manager said in an email to The News Tribune.
“We’re encouraging folks to arrive early and bring their patience. Two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight,” Cooper wrote.
Travelers are also encouraged to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport, and even throughout the days leading up to their flights. SeaTac Airport keeps a live tracker of flights on its website.
Cooper also recommended travelers find other ways of transportation to the airport instead of driving their own car, as SeaTac’s parking garage has been loaded with vehicles as other off-site parking lots have closed.
If your flight is canceled, most airlines will offer to re-book you on the next available flight, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. If you choose not to re-book the flight, you will be entitled to compensation for the flight and any baggage fees you paid.
There is also the possibility that an airline will bump you to a different flight. Airlines often overschedule flights presuming that there will be no-shows. More often than not, the airline is correct, and no one is impacted, but sometimes the airline will have to bump passengers to a later flight.
Bumping is a legal practice, and passengers can voluntarily choose to be bumped for incentives such as a reduced rate ticket and even a free ticket. The airline can involuntarily bump passengers if no passengers volunteer and is required to offer compensation to the bumped passenger.
Airlines must give a bumped passenger a written copy of their rights and explain why the carrier decided to bump someone. Passengers can also not be involuntarily bumped if they have already checked in for their flight or have already had their boarding pass accepted by a gate agent.
Your luggage is lost, delayed or damaged
Under Department of Transportation regulations, airlines must compensate passengers if their baggage is lost, delayed or damaged.
Airlines are responsible for negotiating a compensation fee for damaged baggage, while lost or delayed baggage also falls under the airlines’ responsibility to find. Any missing or delayed baggage should be filed under a baggage claim with the airline.
Airlines cannot set an arbitrary daily amount for however long your baggage is lost, such as $50 a day, according to the Department. If a bag is deemed lost — typically between five and fourteen days after the flight — the airline is responsible for compensating you up to the maximum liability limit of $3,800.
You unexpectedly have to stay overnight
If your flight is canceled and you are stranded at the airport, you may need somewhere to stay.
Unfortunately, airlines are not required to provide any compensation for hotel rooms or additional costs after canceling your flight, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
These incidental expenses such as rental cars, hotel accommodations or meals now needed due to a delayed or canceled flight are not the responsibility of the airlines.
Some airlines may offer hotel or rental car vouchers and reschedule your flight, but legally they do not owe you any additional services, compensation or assistance.
If you are stuck in an airport, the Travel Channel has a few tips for staying the night:
- Consider staying at a nearby or onsite hotel, or using a sleep pod.
- Consider paying to visit an airline lounge.
- Avoid luggage getting stolen by checking luggage into the airport’s luggage storage. Sleep with bags close to you and your most valuable possessions on your person or closest to you.
- Sleep near other people, not in an isolated spot in the airport.
Your rental car isn’t available, even though you had a reservation
Renting a car in the past few years has been difficult, and after a long flight, finding out that your reserved rental car has been given someone else is not the best way to start a vacation.
Car rental companies overbook their rentals like some airlines and hotels do to guarantee they will have most of their cars, rooms or seats occupied. But when every customer with a reservation or ticket shows up, the companies can bump you from a flight, turn you away or cancel your reservation.
According to Hertz, “A ‘reservation’ for a vehicle rental is a notation in Hertz’s records that you have expressed the desire and intention to rent a vehicle,” the car rental company’s website states.
Rental car companies usually reserve the right to cancel your reservation, even if you have already paid to secure the car. According to Budget rental company’s fine print, “Budget reserves the right to rescind the Rental Agreement, even if we have already accepted your reservation and/or received your payment. Our liability in that event will be limited to the return of any money that you have paid with respect to the reservation,” Budget’s website states.
If your car rental company is out of cars, ask them what they can do for you and get as much of a refund as possible. The company may offer to pay for a taxi and deliver a rental car to you once it becomes available. Other rental companies may have vehicles available as well.
If you are dissatisfied with the service of a rental car company, you can file a complaint to the Better Business Bureau. The BBB also recommends to keep receipts and watch your credit card bill for any unexpected charges.