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Airline Travelers Rights

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Traveler's Rights


As the airline industry becomes more competitive, cost cutting has taken on great importance in an airline's bottom line. The area that most often gets cut is customer service and comfort. With headline grabbing abuses on the rise nationwide, customer advocacy groups have been calling for legislation to provide travelers certain rights and remedies for mistreatment at the hands of airlines...a Traveler's Bill of Rights. This paper will examine a few of the points contained within the proposed Traveler's Bill of Rights legislation, and compare two of the most well known airlines, Delta and Southwest, over how they stack up to the care and treatment of their customers with regard to this proposed legislative standard.

Traveler's Rights

With more and more airlines vying for market share, profit margins are cut to the bone in order for each company to stay competitive. The primary ways to ensure profitability are to maximize the number of flights and cut costs wherever possible. The cost cutting area most often noticed by consumers is with customer service and amenities. Going even beyond the ubiquitous overseas call centers, customers have been subjected to smaller seats, pricing schemes that are ever more difficult to understand with hidden fees, and even near imprisonment onboard aircraft waiting for hours upon hours with no relief or recourse available. To remedy the increasingly more publicized perceived abuses by the airline industry, consumer advocate organizations have been pressuring Congress to legislate a Traveler's Bill of Rights to curb these abuses and to give passengers a means of recourse. While there are twenty proposed "rights" in the Traveler's Bill of Rights legislation, only a few of the most important ones will be covered here.


In the aviation world, delays are a part of everyday life. However, with commercial air travel being such an important part of society, be it for business or personal, it is important that customers have some sort of standard or regulation that helps to protect them, as well as keep the airlines in line. The aviation business is one that runs off of trends and stolen ideas. What is meant by that is that airlines seem to play a game of follow the leader with each other; when one airline makes a change, others seem to quickly follow suit. Traditionally in business, this type of competition is not necessarily a bad thing. However, where this does lead to problems is when in an effort to maximize every dollar, customers are treated unfairly. Taking advantage of customers because they have no other real option than to tolerate it, is unethical, and the Department of Transportation has set out to advocate for the rights of the passengers, and the greater good.

How do the airlines get around delays with no retribution one may ask; by not guaranteeing their schedules. Not guaranteeing their schedules allows for virtually unlimited flexibility regarding delays which is written to benefit the airline. As it is commonly known, flying is an activity that requires certain weather conditions. Modern aircraft are able to operate in most weather conditions; however, delays do in fact happen due to winds or visibility creating hazards which could potentiate an incident. There are also maintenance issues that must be addressed prior to flight. If the pilot recognizes that there is an issue during their preflight checks, this may take a while to get the technician and the correct replacement parts to the aircraft, and installed properly. Industry standard is that this happens in the most timely manner possible, however, this is not always possible.

There are no federal requirements for compensation to passengers for delayed flights, and any compensation or arrangements are directly at the discretion of the airline itself. The Department of Transportation has however set certain guidelines in place for the length of time that passengers can stay on board an aircraft that is delayed on the tarmac and also how passengers must be notified of delays. DOT rules prohibit most U.S. airlines from allowing a domestic flight to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours unless the pilot determines that there is a safety or security reason why the aircraft cannot taxi to the gate and deplane its passengers. On both domestic and international flights, U.S. airlines must provide passengers with food and water within two hours of the delay. Restrooms must also be made available during this time.(DOT, n.d.)

When comparing the ways that Delta and Southwest Airlines deal with these type of incidents, there is a notable difference. Which is better is for the individual to decide. Delta Airlines and most of the legacy airlines have had agreements with other airlines in the past, whereas if a flight is to be delayed for a maintenance issue, or something related to the airline itself, they would assist in making arrangements on another carrier for the passenger. Many people feel that this is part of "the rules" regarding flying, however it is not. Delta Airlines carry a policy regarding delays that essentially says that they may transfer a passenger to another airline; however it is at the sole discretion of the airline. Delta's policy is that they will rebook the passenger on another Delta flight for a later time. If the delay or cancellation is within Delta's control, and the passenger is delayed overnight, Delta will provide meals and hotel accommodations at Delta contracted facilities.(Delta, n.d.) Southwest Airlines has a similar but different policy regarding how they handle delays and cancelations. There are two options which the passenger has to choose from in this situation; either the passenger can be rebooked on another Southwest Airlines flight at a later time or they can receive a refund for the unused portion of their fare.(Southwest, 2011)


In the ongoing debate over the ethical treatment of airline passengers, the right to compensation if you are denied boarding has been a sore spot with passengers for some time. Most airlines employ the process of over-selling or over booking airline flights on the premise that there will always be a few passengers who don't show up for their flight, whether they are running late, have booked a later flight, have cancelled their travel plans, or had a change in itinerary and plan on traveling on a different date. The airlines use a formula in order



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