Sorry, But You've Been Bumped
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by Joe Harkins - Aug 12, 98
Knowing a particular airline's rules and your traveler's rights (which are not always the same thing) can be important if the ticket agent says, "Oops, this flight is full. The computer overbooked it. I'll put you on standby for a flight that leaves tomorrow afternoon. Come back at least two hours before scheduled departure. Please step to the side and make way for another victim. Next?"
One can only hope that's not how the bad news will be delivered. Most of us who fly a lot have developed sincere respect for the aplomb with which most airline personnel resolve frustrating situations they did not create, take abuse from the occasionally over-wrought traveler, and keep on ticking with smiles on their faces. Well, let's just say they keep on ticking, if not always with a smile.
But if you are denied boarding or the airline misplaces your baggage or misses flight connections, what are your rights? How can you get those rights respected? How do you negotiate a better resolution than the one initially offered? How much leeway does the person on the other side of the counter have in resolving the problem? Finally, if you aren't satisfied, what recourse do you have?
Like almost everything else today, answers to those questions and many like them are up on the Internet.
Terry Trippler is an expert on passenger's rights. His resume says he began his travel career in 1968 as a ticket agent for a major international airline. Then he worked as a tour escort, travel agent and was the director of a travel school. Since then he has been a frequent contributor to television and travel magazines. His Rules of the Air has organized what you need to know into two handy formats.
The first format offers a pop-up list of the major airlines and a scrolling list of problems (Flight delays and cancellations; Baggage lost; etc.). With one click you get a plain-English explanation of that carriers operating guidelines on that subject.
The second format deals with the fact that many of those rules are based upon a federal regulation. At the bottom of the screen that gives the plain language explanation, the official rule is given in its exact and complete language.
Both formats are easily printed out, folded and carried along with your other travel documents. Anytime you encounter a problem, you have a valuable tool. If you know how far an airline employee can go, or how far the rules say they must go in settling a problem, you are empowered.
How about situations where the rules are not being observed? Even the best-intentioned airline employee can make a mistake and either misunderstand or misapply a rule. When that happens, there are a number of online resources to guide you in resolving disputes.
The web site of the US Department of Transportation, Office of the Secretary, General Counsel is as well organized and laid out as any commercial site. It offers rapid access to pre-defined travelers' problems and detailed explanations of applicable rights. An Organization Chart offers names, titles and direct phone numbers of key DOT officials and their hundreds of staff-attorneys.
When the problem is not with an airline but a travel agent, visit the American Society of Travel Agents Traveler's Bill of Rights. They offer dispute resolution guidelines as well as bonding programs that protect travelers' funds from fraud or bankruptcy if the agent is an ASTA member.
And if a passenger is a problem? Yes, airline employees also have rights. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer article Unruly Passengers explains how airlines are acting to protect crew and passengers from high-flying drunks or disruptive behavior in the sky.
(note: The material that appears below may or may not have been published in your local newspaper depending on the available space in this week's edition.)
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