The Wednesday before Thanksgiving (and the Sunday after) are like annual stress-tests for America's aviation infrastructure.
Passenger numbers can be between 130-259 percent higher than the average day according to the US Travel Association. Watch their interesting Thanksgiving video here.
Last year broke an all-time high of 26.6 million passengers, but this year will surpass that by 55,000 passengers per day during Thanksgiving weekend, says the industry trade group Airlines for America.
Just as predictable as the crowds, are the comments we get from scrooges informing us that people can literally travel any other day of the year and have just as much fun for far less money and hassle.
True, but these pious observers ignore the fact that the rest of us live in the real world, have real jobs that have to be scheduled around work and life responsibilities, client commitments, and the desire to be with family around the holidays.
What You Should Know
All the airline rules about cancellations and delays are laid out in the carrier's Contract of Carriage as well as in the Department of Transportation's Consumer Guide to Air Travel. But who reads all that print?
Here are your rights in the event of a problem:
Passengers must be notified of any delay longer than 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions. These must be posted in the boarding area, on the airline's telephone reservation system and on its website.
FlyersRights signature rule: The maximum limit on the tarmac is three hours (exceptions only for "safety, security or air traffic control-related reasons). And after two hours waiting on the plane, airlines must provide passengers with food and water, as well as working bathrooms.
Airlines are required to offer compensation when a passenger is involuntary bumped from an oversold flight, but not when a flight is delayed or canceled.
For delays or cancellations caused by a "force majeure" - weather, acts of God, riots, terrorist activity, civil unrest, embargoes, war, strikes, government regulation, shortages of labor or fuel or basically anything the airline says is out of its control - the airline isn't required to help you out.
You will be rerouted, put on the next available flight or your ticket will be cancelled and you'll get a refund, but the airline is not required to compensate you with vouchers or anything else.
Luggage Delays - Your Rights
In accordance with your air consumer rights, if your bags don't arrive on the carousel, report it to airline personnel before you leave the airport. Ask that they create a report and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight.
Get a phone number for following up (not the flight reservations number). Most carriers have guidelines for their airport employees allowing them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you're away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you.
If the airline does not provide you a cash advance, it may still reimburse you later for the purchase of necessities. Discuss with the carrier the types of articles that would be reimbursable, and keep all receipts. For example, if the airline loses sporting equipment, it will sometimes pay for the rental of replacements. For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to cover a portion of the purchase cost, on the basis that you will be able to use the new items in the future. (The airline may agree to a higher reimbursement if you turn the articles over to them.)
Airlines are liable for provable damages up to their liability amount of $3,500 in connection to the delay (you are entitled to claim $3,500 for lost baggage). If you can't resolve the claim with the airline's airport staff, keep a record of the names of the employees with whom you dealt, and hold on to all travel documents and receipts for any money you spent in connection with the mishandling.
While you're still at the airport remember to ask for "expenses money." Get a phone number for following up (not the flight reservations number). According to DOT, most carriers have guidelines for their airport employees allowing them to disburse some money at the airport for emergency purchases. The amount depends on whether or not you're away from home and how long it takes to track down your bags and return them to you.
How to ask for help; Don't depend on fixing problems at the airport. If you're waiting in a line, call the airline's customer service number while you wait. They may be able to help you faster than you can even get to the front of the line.
Occasionally, the airline's airport staff does not give you the correct, legal answer. So you may have to call the airline's customer service team on the phone. Sometimes it's more effective to bypass the people you're arguing with. Do this all while still in the terminal, because it's harder to resolve later.
Social media can help - also try tweeting at the correct airline, and you might be amazed how swiftly they respond.
Lastly, don't sign anything. You can sign your right away to earn cash.
When all else fails - there's a good chance your lost luggage is in Alabama. More accurately, the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a retail store filled with valuables from unlucky flyers' "misplaced" bags.
The airlines sell your luggage and the contents after a short holding period and keep the proceeds. FlyersRights strongly disagrees with this practice.
FlyersRights' founder and spokesperson, Kate Hanni, is available for media interviews regarding holiday air travel from now until New Year's!
Don't wrap your gifts before packing them in carryon or checked baggage
No electronics or batteries in checked baggage
Keep medications in carryon or purse (high level of theft of medications according to airport crime database)
Try to get your flights early in the morning and without connecting flights, especially no connections in Texas due to weather/thunderstorms there
Pre-ship anything valuable (Christmas presents) with insurance if you can afford to do so. That will ensure your gifts and expensive electronics are at your arrival area
If you are going on a cruise give yourself 24 hours between the arrival of your flight and departure of cruise
Pack all medications in carryon and a set of comfortable jammies or sweats in case you do end up in a "cot city" in Chicago or elsewhere
Stay calm. The holidays are stressful enough!
To reach our airline expert Kate Hanni for interview requests, call +1 707-337-0328.
We are commited to solutions for promoting airline passenger policies that forward first and foremost the safety of all passengers while not imposing unrealistic economic burdens that adversely affect airline profitability or create exhorbitant ticket price increases.
All American air carriers shall abide by the following standards to ensure the safety, security and comfort of their passengers:
Establish procedures to respond to all passenger complaints within 24 hours and with appropriate resolution within 2 weeks.
Notify passengers within ten minutes of a delay of known diversions, delays and cancellations via airport overhead announcement, on aircraft announcement, and posting on airport television monitors.
Establish procedures for returning passengers to terminal gate when delays occur so that no plane sits on the tarmac for longer than three hours without connecting to a gate.
Provide for the essential needs of passengers during air- or ground-based delays of longer than 3 hours, including food, water, sanitary facilities, and access to medical attention.
Provide for the needs of disabled, elderly and special needs passengers by establishing procedures for assisting with the moving and retrieving of baggage, and the moving of passengers from one area of airport to another at all times by airline personnel.
Publish and update monthly on the company’s public web site a list of chronically delayed flights, meaning those flight delayed thirty minutes or more, at least forty percent of the time, during a single month.
Compensate “bumped” passengers or passengers delayed due to flight cancellations or postponements of over 12 hours by refund of 150% of ticket price.
The formal implementation of a Passenger Review Committee, made up of non-airline executives and employees but rather passengers and consumers – that would have the formal ability to review and investigate complaints.
Make lowest fare information, schedules and itineraries, cancellation policies and frequent flyer program requirements available in an easily accessed location and updated in real-time.
Ensure that baggage is handled without delay or injury; if baggage is lost or misplaced, the airline shall notify customer of baggage status within 12 hours and provide compensation equal to current market value of baggage and its contents.
Require that these rights apply equally to all airline code-share partners including international partners.