Know Your Rights: Air passengers in Alaska

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a popular stopover for global air cargo carriers, and millions of travelers annually, too. Thus, like all other airports, there is no shortage of high traffic that can be adversely affected by weather delays and other incidents.

From over-booked flights, to damaged luggage, to being stuck on the tarmac for hours, knowing your rights as an air traveler is important for both you and the airlines you utilize. So what are your rights as an air travel passenger?

In certain countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, specific rights have been established for the protection of air travel passengers, airports, airlines and their employees. Contracts between passengers and carriers are often one-sided in favor of the airlines, but knowing your rights can help claims gain traction in the event that you should ever have to file one.

Bumping
Travel site airfarewatchdog reports that only about 10 percent of overbooked travelers get involuntarily bumped from their flights. However, per the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, certain air travel rights, including passenger rights in cases of involuntary bumping, are mandated. Your airline might owe you compensation unless it can get you to your destination within one hour of your scheduled arrival time.

The DOT also requires airlines to provide passengers who are bumped involuntarily with a written statement describing their rights. Often, travelers are entitled to denied boarding compensation in the form of a check or cash. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay. You can read more about that here.

In any case, you get to keep your original ticket, which you can use for a subsequent trip or have refunded. Also keep in mind that airlines may offer free tickets or dollar-amount vouchers for future flights, but if you are bumped involuntarily, you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference.

Certain exceptions do exist, and these rules do not apply when an airline bumps a traveler for any reason other than overbooking. Check out the federal consumer fly rights webpage for more information.

Tarmac Delays
For flights departing from the U.S., airlines are required by law to move airplanes to a location where passengers can safely disembark the aircraft within three hours for domestic flights and four hours for international flights.

You can view the DOT's policy on tarmac delays here.

Honest Fares
When booking flights, the price you see is what you pay according to the law. The DOT requires airlines to display full costs of an airline ticket, including any mandatory charges, taxes, and fees. All of this must be displayed in online postings and other advertising, else companies risk facing penalties.

You can find deals on fares on various websites, but know that if you are not booking directly through a carrier, you risk giving up any rights you might have if an issue arises. Good ways to get cheaper tickets include researching different dates and airlines, avoiding high-traffic periods such as holidays, and buying when big sales like those for Black Friday and Cyber Monday are going on.

Another good way to find deals is by utilizing travel sites like Scott McMurren's Alaska Travelgram, and then making your actual ticket purchase directly through the airline.

Baggage
DOT maintains that only a tiny fraction of all passengers' bags are ever lost or delayed, but anyone who's suffered through such incidents knows they can be a pain.

The first thing you can do is be proactive to try to avoid problems before they happen. Bring valuables such as cash and jewelry; fragile items such as glasses and heirlooms; and critical and irreplaceable items such as passports, medicine, and keys with you in a carry-on bag. It's a good idea to pop a change of clothes in there too, should your checked bag be lost or delayed.

You should also label bags inside and out with your name and contact information. Do not overpack your bag as that can put pressure on its mechanisms. Avoid putting perishables in checked baggage, and make sure you check in on time if checking luggage so that the carrier still assumes liability if your bag is lost or damaged.

Speaking of damages, if your luggage arrives smashed or torn, airlines will usually pay for repairs. In Anchorage, for example, Delta will trade your bag for a new one on site if appropriate and you so desire. You can also send your bag in for repairs if that is preferred.

In the case of delayed baggage, many airlines — aside from budget carriers — will reimburse you for some expenses while they look for your bags. Make sure you report that your bags didn't show up, and have someone with the airline write up a report and give you a copy. You can read more on that here.

For luggage that appears permanently lost, you must submit a claim to your airline. Make sure you follow up on each claim and take care to complete all the required paperwork within the allowed time frame, or else your claim may be invalidated altogether.

The Bottom Line

No matter what, if a problem arises for you as an air passenger, keep records of your communications with your airline. And while there are limits to what liabilities airlines assume, remember that you have rights, too.