Do you really know your airline rights?

your airline rights

You don’t know your airline rights. At least that’s what a new poll from AirHelp, a passenger rights advocacy site, says.

A troubling 81% of airline passengers are unaware of their air travel rights, according to the study. And that’s a problem.

Think you’re the exception? OK, here’s a pop quiz. What if your airline overbooks your flight to Los Angeles and leaves you stranded in Dallas overnight?

If you said the air carrier owes you overnight accommodations and meal vouchers, you’d probably only be half right. When you’re bumped from a flight, and delayed by more than four hours, you’re also owed a refund of 400% of the one-way fare (to a maximum of $1,350), according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Told you.

“Lack of awareness” is a problem

“Despite airlines‘ legal obligation to properly communicate rights to travelers, Americans‘ lack of awareness continues to be a major issue,” says Christian Nielsen, AirHelp’s chief legal officer.

There’s a silver lining to this apparent lack of consumer literacy, though. Last year in the same survey, 92% of American passengers didn’t know their air travel rights, according to AirHelp. That’s an 11% improvement in just one year.

What’s going on?

“There’s been a lot more focus this year on consumer rights,” says Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a travel advocacy organization in Washington.

What the survey says about your airline rights

Still, the lack of knowledge is problematic. According to the AirHelp survey:

  • Only 55% of Americans who have been on a disrupted flight and thought their flight disruption was eligible have gone through the process of filing for compensation.
  • Just 45% percent of Americans who think they are eligible for compensation file claims.
  • Americans are 12% less likely to file claims than European airline passengers.

“Air passengers across the globe are constantly being mistreated by the airlines,” adds Nielsen. “Most travelers are not even aware of how they can fight back and be compensated when they are taken advantage of.”

What don’t you know about your airline rights?

What don’t air travelers know? There are a series of small but critically important rules and regulations for air travel.

In the United States, few passengers know that the DOT regulates airlines, or what the rules are. They include:

  • If you change your mind about a flight within 24 hours after booking, you can get a full refund for most flights.
  • If you’re denied boarding on an overbooked flight, and delayed more than four hours, the airline is required to pay you 400% of the one-way fare, not to exceed $1,350. There are higher compensation levels for longer delays.
  • If an airline cancels your flight and you decide not to travel, the airline must give you a full refund within a week.

In Europe, perhaps the biggest unknown consumer protection rule is EC 261, a European consumer regulation that obligates airlines to pay passengers compensation of up to $700 for many types of flight disruptions.

I describe these hidden travel rights in more detail on my consumer advocacy site. Airlines won’t tell you about these rules because they want you to accept whatever they want to give you. (In many cases, that’s nothing.) They want to keep your money, offer you vouchers that expire within a year, or refuse you your rightful compensation.

In other words, they don’t want you to know your airline rights.

Why more passengers know their airline rights now

The new AirHelp poll may seem discouraging, but it’s actually not. Roughly 80 percent of air travelers fly only once a year. That means that the ones who need to know about airline rules do know about them, according to Leocha.

But why? There are several reasons for increased awareness.

DOT’s new outreach efforts. Although the DOT has effectively stopped creating helpful new airline consumer regulations under the Trump administration, the agency has been busy promoting the current rules. In the last two years, DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division has updated its website, adding new pages that explain your existing rights. This action allowed consumers to easily find useful information on their rights.

The rise of consumer advocacy groups. In the last few years, advocacy organizations such as Travelers United and have banded together to promote travel rights literacy. Together, the groups have been pushing for common-sense changes, such as posting notifications of your travel rights at airport ticket counters. They are also talking to media organizations about travel rights and getting the word out.

The public threat of congressional action. In 2016, Congress considered legislation that would have required airlines to notify passengers of their consumer rights, as I noted in my Washington Post column at the time. The idea is still alive and may make it into future legislation, perhaps the next Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill. The reason? Some members of Congress believe airlines are intentionally downplaying or even concealing their customers’ rights. They want to put a stop to that.

Sites like AirHelp have also been helpful in making these issues public. Unfortunately, passengers only find out about these resources after their flights — and sometimes too late to get compensation.

What to make of this year’s poll results

I asked Nielsen what he thought this year’s poll results meant. He said that 9 in 10 Americans have flown, yet Americans are 22% less likely to know their rights than European flyers. “Given this number, we felt it was important to see how passenger awareness has changed and continue to focus our efforts on education,” he says.

Digging deeper into the data, AirHelp’s survey showed that only 55% of Americans facing a significant flight disruption were informed about their rights by the airline.

“Airlines must be held accountable,” he added.

Which airlines are the best at informing passengers of their rights?

If you want to know your airline rights, will airlines help? It depends, says Nielsen.

“Some airlines consistently perform well while others fail to inform travelers of their rights,” he said.

For example, he says Ryanair tried to mislead travelers by telling them they would not be able to claim compensation for disruptions caused by strikes. At the same time, the carrier introduced terms in their contract of carriage that prohibited passengers from seeking help from third parties.

“None of that will stand up in a court of law and just shows the length of how far some airlines will go to keep passengers from exercising their rights,” he adds.

In its last AirHelp Score report, it found that SAS Scandinavian Airlines, WestJet, and American Airlines are the best at processing compensation claims.

“However globally, nearly half of all valid compensation claims are wrongfully rejected by airlines, leaving yet another area for improvement,” he says.

So what should airline passengers make of these results?

“Since the airlines are not doing their part, passengers must take it upon themselves to learn about and understand their rights,” says Nielsen.

Posted in Smart Consumer Tagged , , ,

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.