On arriving flights, airlines operating aircraft with 30 or more passenger seats are prohibited from allowing an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at a U.S. airport for more than three hours on domestic flights and more than four hours on international flights without giving you the passenger an opportunity to leave the plane. On departing flights, airlines are prohibited from allowing an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at a U.S. airport for more than three hours on domestic flights and more than four hours on international flights without beginning the process of returning to a suitable disembarkation point to deplane passengers. Exceptions to the time limits are allowed only for safety, security, or air traffic control-related reasons.
The rules also require airlines to provide adequate food and water, ensure that lavatories are working, provide you notifications regarding status of the tarmac delay and, if necessary, provide medical attention during long tarmac delays.
For flight delays and cancellations that occur within seven days of the scheduled date of the flight, airlines are required to notify you of flight delays of more than 30 minutes, as well as flight cancellations and diversions within 30 minutes of the carrier becoming aware of a change in the status of a flight. The flight status information must be provided in the boarding gate area for the flight at a U.S. airport, on the carrier's website, through an airline's flight status notification services if a carrier offers that service and via the carrier's telephone reservation system upon inquiry by any person.
Prohibition on Increase in Ticket Price or Bag Fees after Purchase
Airlines are prohibited from increasing the price of your ticket after it is purchased. They are also prohibited from increasing the price of a first or second checked bag or a carry-on bag that is not paid for when the ticket is purchased.
24-Hour Grace Period for Ticket Reservations
Airlines must either allow you the passenger to hold a reservation without payment, or cancel a booking without penalty for 24 hours after the reservation is made if they make the reservation one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date.
Fee Charged to Transport a Bag
Airlines are required to reimburse you for any fee charged to transport a bag if that bag is lost.
Fee Charged for Unused Optional Services
Airlines must refund you the fees charged for optional services such as in-flight wifi or seat assignment fees that the passenger was unable to use due to an oversale situation or flight cancellation.
For purchases made with a credit card, airlines must forward a credit to the your credit card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application when a refund is due. For purchases made with cash or checks, airlines must provide a refund within 20 business days.
Airlines must accommodate the needs of air travelers with disabilities. This includes, among other things, providing passengers with disabilities a wheelchair or other guided assistance to board, deplane, or connect to another flight; a seating accommodation that meets your disability-related needs; and the loading and stowing of any assistive device. In addition, airline websites and automated airport kiosks are required to be accessible to passengers with disabilities.
Airlines are prohibited from subjecting a person in air transportation to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.
Airlines are required to compensate you for lost, delayed, or damaged bags. If a passenger’s bag is delayed, airlines will pay reasonable expenses the passenger incurs while he or she waits for the delayed bag. If a passenger’s bag is damaged because of rough handling, airlines will pay for the repairs or negotiate a settlement to pay the passenger the depreciated value. If a passenger’s bag is lost, airlines will reimburse the passenger the depreciated value of his or her lost belongings. Virtually all airlines require that passengers submit a claim and provide documentation such as sales receipts to back up the claims in order to be provided compensation.
Currently, airlines are prohibited from setting a compensation limit below $3,500 per passenger for air transportation within the U.S. and setting a limit below $1,536 per passenger for most international air travel.
Airlines are required to accept all reports of mishandled baggage, including reports of damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles, and other protruding parts of checked baggage beyond normal wear and tear, even if an airline’s agent believes the airline is not liable.
When a flight is overbooked, airlines are required to ask passengers to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation, before bumping anyone involuntarily. Airlines may offer passengers inducements, such as vouchers, to volunteer.
Boarding Priorities (Criteria for Involuntary Denied Boarding)
While it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers from an oversold flight when there are not enough volunteers, it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities.
If there are not enough passengers who are willing to give up their seats voluntarily, an airline may deny you a seat on an aircraft based on criteria that it establishes, such as the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status. However, the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage. For example, an airline could not lawfully use a passenger’s race or ethnicity as a criterion.
DOT requires each airline to give all passengers who are bumped involuntarily a written statement describing their rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets bumped.
Passengers who are denied boarding involuntarily are entitled to compensation that is based on the price of their ticket, the length of time that they are delayed in getting to their destination because of being denied boarding, and whether their flight is a domestic flight or an international flight leaving from the United States.
Most bumped passengers who experience short delays on flights will receive compensation equal to double the one-way price of the flight they were bumped from, up to $675. Passengers experiencing longer delays on flights would receive payments of four times the one-way value of the flight they were bumped from, up to $1,350. Airlines are free to offer more money than required to passengers involuntarily denied boarding.
Amount of Required Denied Boarding Compensation: Domestic Transportation
0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No compensation
1 to 2 hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
Over 2 hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)
Amount of Required Denied Boarding Compensation: International Transportation
0 to 1 hour arrival delay: No compensation
1 to 4 hour arrival delay: 200% of one-way fare (but no more than $675)
Over 4 hour arrival delay: 400% of one-way fare (but no more than $1350)
Airlines are not required to issue compensation to a passenger who is involuntarily denied a seat on an aircraft if:
- a passenger does not comply fully with ticketing and check-in requirements;
- the flight is unable to accommodate a passenger because of a substitution of equipment with fewer seats when required by operational or safety reasons;
- an aircraft with 60 or fewer seats is unable to accommodate the passenger due to weight/balance restrictions for operational or safety reasons; or
- the passenger is seated in a section of the aircraft other than that specified on the ticket.
Complaints about airline service may be registered with DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Division (ACPD). To file a complaint, comment or inquiry electronically, please use the web form at https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm.
Visit our Fly Rights web page.