Knowing Your Rights as an Airline Passenger
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
Multiple news outlets have reported that an unidentified man was dragged from his seat on a United Airlines flight by airport security officers. Footage taken by another passenger shows the officers forcibly removing the man and dragging him by his arms down the aisle and out of the plane. The man was pulled out because he refused to leave the flight to make room for United Airlines employees after airline personnel asked him to involuntarily exit the plane. The federal Transportation Department is investigating United Airlines to determine whether the company followed proper procedure in removing passengers from an overbooked flight.
Your Right to Compensation
Following the event, many are wondering whether United acted legally in forcibly removing the man from the plane. According to a Huffington Post report, after realizing the flight was overbooked, the airline offered four random passengers $800 to give up their seats. Three accepted the offer, while the fourth did not.
One possible reason for his refusal could be that the airline did not actually offer enough money. According to federal statute, if a passenger is delayed by more than 2 hours due to an involuntary removal, then the airline is supposed to pay 400 percent of the fare to either the destination or the first stop, up to $1,350. So, given that the United flight in question may have cost $221 – based on prices for similar flight paths at similar times – the passengers may have been entitled to at least $884. And given that some passengers may have had more expensive tickets, the compensation could have reached the limit of $1,350.
Additionally, as per federal rules, it’s important to note that if a passenger is delayed by more than 1 hour, he or she is entitled to 200 percent of the one-way ticket price, up to $675.
Knowing Your Rights
Why is it important to know your rights as a passenger? Because, according to USA Today, it is not uncommon for airlines to offer less than the full amount, if they offer money at all. Sometimes they offer flier miles or vouchers that expire after a year and they do this without informing the passenger of the full amount owed them. As observed by USA Today, in 2013, the average amount of money given to involuntarily removed passengers was $643. Approximately 1 in 10 passengers will question the amount of compensation offered.
Course of Action
So what should you do if you find yourself in such a situation? Well there are a few things to consider, according to an AirHelp infographic shown on this Huffington Post Article. First off, if you want to reduce your chances of being removed, be sure to read the fine print when purchasing your ticket or when checking in. In some cases, the airline may offer you the option of volunteering to be rebooked. Refuse this option.
Also, an airline employee may ask passengers to leave of their own accord. Don’t volunteer. If you volunteer to leave, you waive your right to full compensation. You may get a small amount but nowhere near what you could get if you are asked to leave involuntarily. If you are denied boarding, be sure to know your rights to compensation. You can find out by reading the contract of carriage, which is the legal agreement between you and the airline.
Also, be wary of taking an airline employee at his or her word. They are trained to frame your rights in such a way that they may not be appealing. Read the federal regulations yourself. And if you feel you aren’t being treated fairly, you can file a complaint at the Transportation Department's Aviation Consumer Protection Division.