Air Travel

With heightened security measures now the rule, there are certain trade-offs we make for the convenience of air travel.  Most of the time our trips go smoothly, but occasionally problems are bound to arise.

Plan your flight to avoid delays and cancellations

When booking a flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less like to be delayed.  Even if it is delayed or canceled, you have more rerouting alternatives.  The later in the day your flight is scheduled, the greater the likelihood that you will have to stay overnight if any scheduling problems occur.

To avoid or minimize delays, select a nonstop flight.  If you must take a flight with a connection, try to choose a flight with enough layover time for you to make your connection even if the first flight is delayed.  Also remember, the more congested the airports you travel through, the more likely there are to be delays.  Seasonal weather conditions can also contribute to flight delays and cancellations.

Information can be found online to assist you in your decisions:

Cancellations:   In the event your flight gets canceled, the airline may be able to schedule you on a subsequent flight at no extra charge.  Another option is to request that your airline carrier place you on a flight with another carrier at no additional expense to you.  This is accomplished by your original airline endorsing your ticket to the second airline.  You could also demand a refund for the canceled flight.

Delays:  If your flight is delayed, ask what the airline can do for you.  Each airline has its own policies regarding this issue.  Visit the Air Travel Consumer Report issued by the Department of Transportation for information about the customer service policies of the major U.S. airlines.

Keep in mind that airlines usually do not compensate customers for financial losses due to flight delays.   Compensation is required only if you are removed from a flight that is oversold.  Delays and cancellations are not uncommon, so plan your flight ahead of time and allow extra time.

Purchasing Your Ticket

When you shop for a lower fare, make sure you understand all of the ticket restrictions, if any.  Protect your ticket as if it were cash, or consider using an electronic ticket.  If you plan to purchase a ticket in person and by bank check, take at least two forms of identification with you, such as a passport, driver's license or employee I.D. card in order to confirm your identity.

Refundable tickets:
If you purchased your refundable ticket with cash, you can often get an immediate refund from the issuing airline or travel agency.  However, if you paid by personal check, the refund will generally be mailed to you.  Keep in mind that foreign government monetary restrictions may require that a refund for a ticket purchased overseas with foreign currency be refunded in that same currency and country.

Your charge account is billed immediately when you charge a ticket by credit card—whether you use your ticket or not.   You will not receive a credit unless the original unused ticket is returned to the airline.  You usually can't get a cash refund for a credit card purchase.

If you buy your ticket with a credit card and then change your flight, the ticket agent may want to credit the amount of the first ticket and issue another ticket with a second charge to your account.  Consider insisting that the value of the first ticket be applied to the new one, with only the difference in price charged or credited to your account.   While this creates a little extra work for the airlines, it does prevent double-billing to your charge account.

Payment by credit card provides certain protections under federal credit laws.  Airlines are required to process refunds to your credit card account within seven business days after receiving a completed refund application.  If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have trouble getting a refund that you are due, report this in writing to your credit card company.  If you write to them within 60 days from the time that they mailed your first monthly statement showing the charge for the airline ticket, the card company should credit your account even if the airline doesn't.  This procedure is particularly useful if your airline ceases operations before your flight.

Nonrefundable tickets:
Check with your airline for information about their nonrefundable ticket policies.

Many airlines will refund a ticket, even a nonrefundable one, for good cause.  A medical emergency, jury duty or a death in the family generally qualifies as good cause for not using an airline ticket.  You must provide proof (such as a death certificate or note from your doctor) but, ultimately, it is the airline’s decision as to whether or not the particular instance warrants a refund.  It doesn't hurt to request a refund from the airline or your travel agent, even multiple times.

The more general airline practice is to allow you a credit (original purchase price minus a penalty fee) toward a future flight instead of offering a refund.  These credit vouchers have limitations and restrictions, such as expiration dates or deadlines for making ticket changes.  Currently most airlines charge $100 to change travel dates or times on a nonrefundable ticket.  For international flights, this fee can be more than $200.  Again, check with your airline for specifics.

Ticket protector insurance is generally offered by an airline or travel agency.  However, because the insurance is restrictive, understand what is covered before you purchase it.  Cancellation of a ticket due to a medical emergency, car accident, terrorist attack, airline delay or cancellation, natural disaster, death of traveler or family member, adverse weather, airline strike or jury duty are generally grounds for reimbursement of your purchase price.   However, the coverage may be defined more narrowly than you expect.  For example, the insurance will not cover you for a medical condition for which you are already being treated; and if you cancel your flight for weather conditions, you will not get your money back unless the airline cancels the flight or the airport is closed.

How to avoid baggage problems

Understand the costs associated with the number of bags you check or the weight of your luggage.  Familiarize yourself with the airline’s baggage policies before you pack.

Avoid putting valuables or items you need daily in checked luggage.

Overpacking could cause the bag to open during travel.

If you want to lock your bags, go to for information on approved locks.  Inspectors have a right to open any and all bags.

Put a tag with your contact information both inside and outside your luggage.

Make sure the person checking your bags attaches a destination tag to each bag.

Know where your bags are checked to.

Buy “excess valuation” from the airline if your property is worth more than the airline’s liability limit.  This limit is usually $3000 per person for domestic flights, or $1000 “Special Drawing Rights” per person on most international trips originating in the U.S.  Some credit card companies and travel agencies offer baggage insurance.

If your bag does not arrive, or arrives with items damaged or missing, contact the airline immediately before leaving the airport.  If your bag is lost, ask if the airline will deliver the baggage to your location free of charge.  Also ask about advancement or reimbursement for any items you must buy before the bag is found.  Most major airlines offer an online page where you can check the status of your missing or lost bag.

Problem Resolution

Generally the air carriers are anxious to keep their customers happy, and you should report your service-related problem directly to the airline.

If an airline does not resolve your problems, visit U.S Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD).  This website provides useful information regarding your rights and how to file different types of complaints.  Their contact information for mail and phone is:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590
Phone: 202-366-2220

Be sure to provide complete information about your flight (including a copy of your ticket stub if you are writing) and your contact information.  Although the ACPD does not handle complaints on an individual basis, it will log your complaint into the computer system and will forward it to the airline, as appropriate.  The ACPD does monitor reported incidents in the aviation industry, determine compliance with federal consumer protection regulations, and publicize the complaint records of the various airlines.

You can report airline safety concerns to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or by calling the 24-hour toll-free safety hotline at 866-835-5322.

You are also invited to make your comments about aviation security measures to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by e-mailing their Contact Center or by calling them toll-free at 866-289-9673 (open 24 hours a day).