Your Rights as a Traveler: Flights, Hotels, Rental Cars and More
As a traveler, you have protected rights that vary depending on your mode of transportation and the country where you’re traveling. You need to be aware of these rights so you can protect yourself and ensure that you’re being treated fairly.
Domestic Air Travelers’ Rights
Air travelers’ rights are outlined by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). They’re currently not as extensive as the protections offered by some other countries or the European Union, which is one of the impetuses behind pending passenger-rights legislation.
The proposed measure, the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, would provide air travelers legal protection in the cases of delays, cancellations, lost baggage, and “junk fees.”
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Guarantee a minimum of $1,350 to passengers bumped because of overbooking;
- Force airlines to compensate passengers for airline-caused delays or cancellations;
- Immediately refund baggage fees for lost bags.
Why is additional legislation needed? Because the United States currently has limited protections written in law to protect airline travelers.
For instance, there’s no guaranteed compensation for all bumped travelers or victims of airline-caused delays or cancellations, though the DOT has encouraged airlines to allow free rebooking for controllable delays, put travelers up in a hotel, and transport them to and from the hotel.
For bumped travelers, the DOT requires an airline to provide a statement outlining the bumped traveler’s rights, but it doesn’t require compensation in all cases of bumping.
When it comes to baggage, the DOT stipulates that, “Airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable, verifiable, and actual incidental expenses that they may incur while their bags are delayed – subject to the maximum liability limits,” and “Airlines are not allowed to set an arbitrary daily amount for interim expenses.”
However, the DOT does not define when a bag is actually lost.
The DOT’s Refunds page has detailed information on the circumstances that warrant (and don’t warrant) a refund.
Remember, you can’t double-dip. If an airline reimburses you for transportation, you can’t file a claim with a travel insurance company to be reimbursed for transportation, and the airline pays its obligation first.
Finally, the DOT’s “Fly Rights” page has a wealth of information for air travelers, though it’s a little light on legal protections and information on what airlines must provide passengers when their flights are cancelled or their luggage is lost.
International Air Traveler’s Rights
If you’re flying in a foreign country and experience a flight cancellation or delay, you may find the going smoother.
For instance, if you’re flying in the European Union or on an EU-licensed airline, you’re protected by the EU’s Air Passenger Rights legislation, which includes among other things:
- The right to claim compensation for cancellations or delays, except in “extraordinary circumstances”
- The right to “assistance and care” in cases of delays, cancellations, overbooking, or missed connecting flights
- The right to request a seat on another flight or to withdraw from the scheduled flight if it is cancelled or delayed by more than five hours
- The right to be compensated for lost or damaged luggage
- The right to be informed of flight cancellations and delays and be presented with a list of options and rights
Canada has enacted similar legislation covering flights into and out of that country.
Train Travelers’ Rights
Why should air travelers have all the fun?
Train travelers in Europe also enjoy many of the same protections as their flying counterparts.
This means that rail companies:
- Have to inform passengers of their rights
- Have to have tickets available
- Have to compensate travelers for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage
The European Consumer Centres Network has more information on train travelers’ rights in the EU.
Hotel and Vacation Rental Rights
There are few legal protections for hotel guests and vacation-home renters other than enforcing the terms of the legal agreement you enter into when you rent such a place, and those that exist vary depending on the city, state or country you are visiting.
What does that mean when you rent a hotel? At a minimum, it means you have the right to:
- Stay in a safe place
- Know exactly what you’re paying, with all fees in addition to the rate clearly and completely stated
Anything beyond that has to be specifically stipulated in writing.
It’s much the same for a vacation rental, with the most important difference being you’re often presented with a contract that must be signed. Read it thoroughly, ask questions if you don’t understand, and if you’re not satisfied with the answers ask an attorney.
Be sure to read and understand the refund and cancellation policy before making a reservation, as you may have to pay fees or penalties for cancellations made outside the specified window.
Rental Car Rights
With rental cars, the top two questions are:
- What am I liable for if I get into an accident? And
- What are the penalties if I don’t fill up the car before returning it?
Rental car agents may rush through these, so listen carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand.
Also, especially if you’re booking online, review the terms and conditions before finalizing your reservation and be sure you understand the costs and penalties associated with cancellations or modifications.
All travelers with disabilities have the right to accessible travel accommodations in the U.S. under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws.
This includes accessible seating, boarding assistance, and other accommodations to ensure that travelers with disabilities can travel safely and comfortably.
The DOT has a detailed Bill of Rights for Disabled Travelers that should be consulted before traveling.
Also read: How Travel Insurance Works in Real Life
Travelers in the U.S. also have the right to be protected from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, or other factors. Discrimination can take many forms, including being denied service, being treated unfairly, or being harassed.
If you experience discrimination when traveling, you should report it to the airline, hotel, or other travel provider, as well as local law enforcement or civil-rights organizations.
In extreme cases, you may want to consult a civil-rights lawyer to understand your rights and actions that can be taken.
We hope you never have to exercise your rights as a traveler, but if you do, it’s important to do your homework beforehand. It’s equally important to help protect your trip with travel insurance from Generali.
Get a quote today.