Sometimes, dream vacations can be ruined before they even begin. Luggage may be lost or damaged, or airlines may cancel flights altogether. Although nobody likes to put their vacation plans on hold, here’s how to recoup some of those lost opportunities.

With all the factors that contribute to pre-flight anxiety for passengers such as lost luggage or fear of flying, there are still a number of mishaps that can occur when flying that even the savviest of travelers couldn’t plan for. From bad weather conditions to political radicals storming the passenger terminal, flights are often cancelled and delayed for reasons beyond both the passenger’s and airline’s control.

Knowing your rights as a passenger and customer can prove to be beneficial in worst-case scenarios in which your travel itinerary may not play out as originally planned. From re-booking and compensation to accommodations and cancelations, passengers have rights that protect them against completely catastrophic outcomes should the unexpected arise.

A ticket purchase binds the buyer to a contract with the airline. Some of these contract terms are printed on the ticket, but many are not. Learning the rules about safety, lost baggage, and bumping compensation is especially important. Ticket agents or airline customer service will usually supply lists of these rules.


Passengers are sometimes ‘bumped’ from overbooked flights. First, the airlines ask for volunteers willing to switch to other flights in exchange for vouchers for future trips. It’s important to learn what benefits (such as phone calls, meals, or hotel rooms) come with the voucher and when seats on other flights will be available before volunteering to be bumped.

If not enough people volunteer, airlines will bump random passengers off the flight, usually those without assigned seats or the last to check in. Passengers who are involuntarily bumped may receive compensation if they have confirmed their reservations, meet the check-in deadline, and cannot get another flight arriving at their planned destination within an hour of their original flight.

Passengers able to board a plane within one to two hours are entitled to a one-way fare refund up to US$200, while those who must wait more than two hours receive up to US$400. Bumped passengers may wait no more than four hours for an airline to assign them to another international flight.

Lost or damaged luggage

Even after passengers arrive safely at their destination, their luggage may not. However, 98 percent of missing bags are eventually delivered to their rightful owners within hours or days, as long as a home or hotel address and phone number is provided. If luggage or the contents within are ripped open or damaged, airline customer service will usually inspect and repair them.

While there are several factors that contribute to lost or damaged luggage such as elaborate flight plans with multiple connections, human error and late check-ins, passengers are still entitled to certain rights in this situation. While airlines usually reconnect passengers with their luggage within a few days, there are instances when the luggage is permanently lost or damaged. Airlines usually compensate passengers up to a certain amount to replace belongings, goods and necessities that were lost or damaged.

Here are some more baggage protection tips:

  • Remove old luggage tags and make sure new ones have the correct destination.
  • Put identification tags on luggage, and remember to get a claim ticket.
  • Place all necessities, valuables, and contact information in carry-on bags.
  • Luggage is most commonly lost during tight connections or late check-ins, so avoid both when possible.
  • Travel insurance is recommended.

Confirmed reservations and tickets

Passengers with tickets showing a confirmed flight have the right to board the existing flight even if there is no record or history of the passenger in the airline’s system.

Delayed and cancelled flights

Airlines have the right to delay or cancel flights at any time without providing phone calls, meals or hotel rooms, but will typically refund tickets for flights cancelled by bad weather or other acts beyond their control. Airlines may also try to place passengers on another flight, sometimes with another airline. Rebooking through the airline’s reservation system is recommended.

How delayed and canceled flights are handled varies from airline to airline and country to country. Typically, after canceling a flight, an airline will book passengers on the next available flight. Depending on the nature of a delayed flight, airlines may provide vouchers for meals and other useful necessities. Airlines are usually not required to provide vouchers or any other compensation when delays are weather related.

If traveling within the European Union, passengers are entitled to a different set of rights. Compensation must be paid immediately to passengers of overbooked flights. Cancellations should result in a full refund in addition to a free ticket back to the point of departure. Meals and refreshments are provided for delayed flights but depend on the distance of your next destination and the length of the delay.

While it is important for passengers to know what rights they are entitled to, it is just important to know a few they are not.

  • Passengers who fail to present valid identification, including passports for international travel, will be denied the right to board the plane.
  • Passengers who cancel a nonrefundable ticket are allowed the value of the ticket as a credit towards a future flight.
  • Passengers who fail to check-in on time or arrive at the departure gate late may be denied the right to board the plane.
  • Although the airline is usually responsible for missing or delayed luggage, it is not the case for passengers who fail to leave enough time for checked bags to be loaded onto the plane.
  • In the event passengers are denied boarding, they are usually entitled to a written notice detailing the rules and regulations.

Passengers who do any of the following can legally be denied access to the aircraft:

  • refuse to be searched or provide identification
  • refuse to wear seatbelts
  • carry dangerous weapons
  • are barefoot
  • are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • act in a violent or abusive manner

Ticket agents or an airline’s customer service department can provide a more complete list of conditions, as well as steps for filing formal complaints when necessary.