ST. LOUIS – Air travel angst is the theme of the summer travel season, and more Americans are feeling it this year.
As of July 18, TSA statistics show 45.3 million travelers have passed through U.S. airport checkpoints, an average of 2.5 million people per day. That’s up significantly from the same period last July, when 40.4 million travelers accounted for a daily average of 2.2 million.
“I characterize it as a long-running perfect storm,” said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org.
Hudson says congestion delays at major domestic hubs, antiquated computer systems, and pilot and air traffic control shortages are fueling the frustration travelers are experiencing nationwide.
“The airlines are not going to generally advise you of your rights,” he said.
That’s why Hudson urges travelers to study the contract of carriage for the airline they’re flying, because they’re not all the same.
“If your flight is cancelled or accessibly delayed, you have a right to what’s called an involuntary refund,” he said. “You have the right to get a hotel, meals and ground transportation if your flight is delayed or cancelled.”
Hudson recommends taking direct flights when possible.
“Because if your flight is cancelled at the point of departure, you have other options. If it’s cancelled at an intermediate point, you can be stranded not just for hours, but sometimes for days,” he said.
What if you are stranded waiting for a connecting flight?
“The airline will typically offer you another flight on their airline. But you can ask that your ticket be used on another airline. If they refuse that, you can get a refund and try to get a ticket on another airline that has vacant seats,” Hudson said.
He says flying standby on a later flight can also be an option, even if the airline tells you the flight is full.
“Often, that’s not really true. You can ask for that, with a refund, and you can normally get a refund for the extra amount you paid, because that’s clearly a deceptive practice,” Hudson said.
Federal law doesn’t require airlines to provide passengers with money or other compensation when flights are delayed due to weather. If you believe you’re entitled to compensation from the airline, Hudson says you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.