The summer travel season is proving to be a nightmare for some passengers.
During key holiday weekends like the Fourth of July and Juneteenth, airlines have canceled thousands of flights and caused chaos at airports.
One traveler, Sheila Gray, had a particularly rough time on Saturday when her American Airlines flight from Charlotte to Boston had a five-hour maintenance delay followed by the pilots timing out. This means the crew could not legally fly because they reached the maximum hours they could work that day or would land at the destination past their maximum duty time.
Passengers were already boarded by the time crew went off-duty, forcing customers to deplane.
The incident left travelers distraught and angry, Gray told Insider, saying some customers were yelling at gate agents.
In the case of deplaning after already being boarded, passengers do have rights in certain cases, particularly if they were involuntarily asked to leave the aircraft. Here’s what you should know and do.
Check the status of your flight
Just because you were on the aircraft before being asked to deplane does not necessarily mean you get extra compensation. Once you exit the plane, you need to check the status of your flight.
If the flight is still delayed, the US Department of Transportation does not require airlines to provide any compensation, so you’ll need to wait until the flight leaves or gets canceled. During your wait, ask the airline for a meal or hotel voucher as some do provide this during lengthy delays.
If the flight is canceled, then the DOT requires the airline to provide a refund, regardless of the reason for the cancellation. However, you can instead ask to be rebooked on a later flight, or choose to find your own transportation to your final destination. Airlines are not required to give you a hotel or reimburse you for travel expenses outside of the refund for the flight, per the DOT.
In some cases, not all passengers will be deplaned after boarding, but rather only a select few. This is called “bumping” or “involuntary denied boarding,” according to the DOT, and happens when airlines oversell a flight, meaning there are more passengers than seats.
Most of the time, airlines will ask for volunteers to take a different flight, like Delta Air Lines offering $ 10,000 to each passenger who gave up their seat on a June 27 flight out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
However, sometimes carriers will not find enough volunteers and will involuntarily bump people, which most of the time occurs before the plane is boarded. In this case, airlines must provide compensation, albeit there are a few exceptions, according to the DOT:
- Aircraft change to a smaller plane due to operational or safety reasons
- The plane holds fewer than 30 people
- Weight and balance concerns for planes with 60 or fewer seats
- The flight is departing a foreign country and headed to the US
If none of these apply and you have a confirmed ticket, checked in on time, were at the gate on time, and the airline could not get you to your final destination within an hour of your original arrival time, then you are entitled to denied boarding compensation (DBC), per the DOT.
The DBC is based on the value of your ticket, the length of your delay that resulted from the involuntarily denied boarding, and if your flight was domestic or international.
For domestic flights that arrive one to two hours later than scheduled, passengers receive 200% of their one-way fare, which can be capped at $ 775. Anything over two hours is 400%, which can be capped at $ 1,550.
For international flights that arrive one to four hours later than scheduled, passengers receive 200% of their one-way fare, and anything over four hours is 400%. The caps still apply, which is up to the discretion of the airline.
Passengers who booked a higher fare class, like business, but were downgraded to a cheaper cabin must be given a refund for the difference in price.
Airlines cannot bump you from a flight you have already boarded if you have checked in by the last check-in time and have had your boarding pass scanned at the gate, per the DOT.
However, you can still be removed for safety, security, or health-related risks. Or, if you were a disruptive passenger. If you were bumped for a reason that was not within your control, then the airline is required to compensate you.
Lengthy tarmac delay
Tarmac delays occur when passengers on an arriving or departing aircraft do not have the option to get off the plane, according to the DOT. Airlines in the US are required to allow passengers the opportunity to disembark an aircraft before three hours have passed for domestic flights and four hours for international flights.
The only exception is if the reason is related to security, safety, or air traffic control.
If you’re sitting on the plane for more than the three or four-hour time limits, then you can file a complaint against the airline, according to CN Traveler.
For tarmac delays over two hours, airlines must provide passengers with water and snacks, per the DOT.
Passengers are allowed to get off the aircraft during tarmac delays if the airline deems it safe. However, travelers may do so at their own risk because the carrier is not required to let them back on the plane or wait for them once the flight is ready to take off.
Moreover, their checked luggage is not required to be removed before departing, according to the DOT.