A Consumer Guide to Air Travel
We make every effort to keep Fly-Rights up to date, but airlines frequently change the way they do business. So by the time you read this a few procedures we explain may be different.
Tenth Revised Edition, September 1994
The elimination of government economic regulation of the airlines has resulted in lower fares and a wide variety of price/service options. In this new commercial environment, consumers have had to take a more active role in choosing their air service by learning to ask a number of questions.
This booklet is designed to explain your rights and responsibilities as an air traveler. We hope it helps you become a resourceful consumer.
Because of the emphasis on price competition, consumers may choose from a wide variety of air fares. Some airlines are trying a "back to basics" approach-offering flights at bargain basement prices with few extras. For fare information, you can contact a travel agent, another ticket outlet or an airline serving the places you want to visit. Ask them to tell you the names of all airlines flying there. A travel agent can find virtually all airlines' fares in his or her computer. Or, if you prefer you can call each airline to ask about the fares they charge, particularly any special promotional fares they may be offering at the time. You can also pay attention to newspaper and radio ads, where airlines advertise many of the discount plans that apply to your city. Finally, be alert to new companies serving the market. They may offer lower fares or different services than older established airlines. Here are some tips to help you decide among air fares:
Differences in air fares can be substantial. Careful comparison shopping among airlines does take time, but it can lead to real savings.
Once you decide when and where you want to go, and which airline you want to use, getting reservations and tickets is a fairly simple process. You can make all of your arrangements by telephone, at the airline's ticket office, or through a travel agent or other ticket outlet. There are a few potential pitfalls, however, and these pointers should help you avoid them.
Paying for and refunding airline tickets
Payment by credit card provides certain protections under federal credit laws. When a refund is due, the airline must forward a credit to your card company within seven business days after receiving a complete refund application. If you paid by credit card for a refundable fare and you have trouble getting a refund that you are due, report this in writing to your credit card company. If you write to them within 60 days from the time that they mailed your first monthly statement showing the charge for the airline ticket, the card company should credit your account even if the airline doesn't. This procedure is particularly useful if your airline ceases operations before your flight.
Airline tickets are similar to negotiable documents. Because of this, refunds can be difficult to obtain if tickets are lost or stolen. Many passengers believe that air tickets can be replaced as easily as travelers checks just because the reservation is in the computer, but that is not the case. Your ticket number may be shown on your credit card receipt or travel agency itinerary. If it is not, jot down the number on a sheet of paper and carry it separately from your ticket. Bring it with you on your trip. If the ticket does go astray, the airline can process your refund application more quickly, and perhaps issue an on-the-spot replacement ticket, if you can give them this number. You should report a lost ticket immediately to the airline that is shown as the issuing carrier at the top of the ticket. You may be required to repurchase a ticket in order to continue your trip. If you no longer meet all of the restrictions on your discount fare (e.g., seven-day advance purchase) the new ticket may cost more than the old one did. In that event, however, it is generally the higher fare that is eventually refunded, as long as you don't change any of the cities, flights or dates on your trip. Once the airline establishes that you actually bought the ticket, they will begin processing your refund application. There is often a waiting period of two to six months. If anyone uses or cashes in your ticket while the refund is pending, the airline may refuse to give you your money back. Finally, there is a handling charge that the airline may deduct from the refund. All in all, getting a refund or replacement for a lost ticket is a lot of trouble, and there's no guarantee you'll receive either one. So the best advice is-don't lose the ticket in the first place.
Airlines don't guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip. There are many things that can-and often do-make it impossible for flights to arrive on time. Some of these problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical repairs, are hard to predict and beyond the airlines' control. If your flight is delayed, try to find out how late it will be. But keep in mind that it is sometimes difficult for airlines to estimate the total duration of a delay during its early stages. In so- called "creeping delays," developments occur which were not anticipated when the carrier made its initial estimate of the length of the delay. Weather that had been forecast to improve can instead deteriorate, or a mechanical problem can turn out to be more complex than initially determined. If the problem is with local weather or air traffic control, all flights will probably be late and there's not much you or the airline can do to speed up your departure. If there's a mechanical problem with the plane for your particular flight or if the crew is delayed on an incoming flight, you might be better off trying to arrange another flight, as long as you don't have to pay a cancellation penalty or higher fare for changing your reservations. (It is sometimes easier to make such arrangements from a pay phone than at a ticket counter.) If you find a flight on another airline, ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to the new carrier; this could save you a fare increase. Remember, however, that there is no rule requiring them to do this. If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on the first flight of theirs to your destination on which space is available, at no additional charge. If this involves a significant delay find out if another carrier has space, and ask the first airline to endorse your ticket. Finding extra seats may be difficult, however, especially over holidays and other peak travel times.
Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if they will pay for meals or a phone call. Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline's control. Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled. As discussed in the chapter on overbooking, compensation is required by law only when you are "bumped" from a flight that is oversold. Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight. If the purpose of your trip is to close a potentially lucrative business deal, to give a speech or lecture, to attend a family function, or to be present at any time-sensitive event, you might want to allow a little extra leeway and take an earlier flight. In other words, airline delays and cancellations aren't unusual, and defensive counter- planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration. When booking your flight remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due to "ripple" effects throughout the day. Also, if an early flight does get delayed or canceled, you have more rerouting options. If you book the last flight of the day and it is canceled, you could get stuck overnight. You may select a connection (change of planes) over a nonstop or direct flight because of the convenient departure time or lower fare. However, a change of planes always involves the possibility of a misconnection. If you have a choice of connections and the fares and service are equivalent, choose the one with the least-congested connecting airport, so it will be easier to get to your second flight. You may wish to take into consideration the potential for adverse weather if you have a choice of connecting cities. When making your reservation for a connection, always check the amount of time between flights. Ask yourself what will happen if the first flight is delayed; if you don't like the answer, pick another flight or ask the agent to "construct" a connection that allows more time.
Overbooking is not illegal, and most airlines overbook their scheduled flights to a certain extent in order to compensate for "no-shows." Passengers are sometimes left behind or "bumped" as a result. When an oversale occurs, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to ask people who aren't in a hurry to give up their seats voluntarily, in exchange for compensation. Those passengers bumped against their will are, with a few exceptions, entitled to compensation.
Almost any group of airline passengers includes some people with urgent travel needs and others who may be more concerned about the cost of their tickets than about getting to their destination on time. Our rules require airlines to seek out people who are willing to give up their seats for some compensation before bumping anyone in- voluntarily. Here's how this works. At the check-in or boarding area, airline employees will look for volunteers when it appears that the flight has been oversold. If you're not in a rush to arrive at your next destination, you can give your reservation back to the airline in exchange for compensation and a later flight. But before you do this, you may want to get answers to these important questions:
DOT has not said how much the airline has to give volunteers. This means carriers may negotiate with their passengers for a mutually acceptable amount of money-or maybe a free trip or other benefits. Airlines give employees guidelines for bargaining with passengers, and they may select those volunteers willing to sell back their reservations for the lowest price. If the airline offers you a free ticket, ask about restrictions. How long is the ticket good for? Is it "blacked out" during holiday periods when you might want to use it? Can it be used for international flights? Most importantly, can you make a reservation, and if so, how far before departure are you permitted to make it?
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 on an oversold flight and who doesn't. Those travelers who don't get to fly are frequently entitled to an on-the-spot payment of denied boarding compensation. The amount depends on the price of their ticket and the length of the delay:
Like all rules, however, there are a few conditions and exceptions:
In addition to the ticketing deadline, each airline has a check-in deadline, which is the amount of time before scheduled departure that you must present yourself to the airline at the airport. For domestic flights most carriers have a deadline of 10 minutes before scheduled departure, but some can be an hour or longer. (Many airlines require passengers with advance seat assignments to check in 30 minutes before scheduled departure, even if they already have advance boarding passes. If you miss this deadline you may lose the specific seats you were promised, although not the reservation itself.) Check-in deadlines on international flights can be as much as three hours before scheduled departure time, due partially to security procedures. Some airlines may simply require you to be at the ticket/baggage counter by this time; most, however, require that you get all the way to the boarding area. If you miss the ticketing or check-in deadline, you may have lost your reservation and your right to compensation if the flight is oversold.
The most effective way to reduce the risk of being bumped is to get to the airport early. On oversold flights the last passengers to check in are usually the first to be bumped, even if they have met the check-in deadline. Allow extra time; assume that the airport access road is backed up, the parking lot is full, and there is a long line at the check-in counter. However, if you arrive so early that your airline has another flight to your destination leaving before the one that you are booked on, either switch to the earlier flight or don't check your bag until after the first flight leaves. If you check your bag right away, it might get put on the earlier flight and remain unattended at your destination airport for hours. Airlines may offer free transportation on future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference. Once you cash the check (or accept the free flight), you will probably lose the right to demand more money from the airline later on. However, if being bumped costs you more money than the airline will pay you at the airport, you can try to negotiate a higher settlement with their complaint department. If this doesn't work, you usually have 30 days from the date on the check to decide if you want to accept the amount of the check. You are always free to decline the check and take the airline to court to try to obtain more compensation. The government's denied boarding regulation spells out the airlines' minimum obligation to people they bump involuntarily. Finally, don't be a "no-show." If you are holding confirmed reservations you don't plan to use, notify the airline. If you don't, they will cancel all onward or return reservations on your trip.
Between the time you check your luggage in and the time you claim it at your destination, it may have passed through a maze of conveyor belts and baggage carts; once airborne, baggage may tumble around the cargo compartment if the plane hits rough air. In all fairness to the airlines, however, relatively few bags are damaged or lost. With some common-sense packing and other precautions, your bags will probably be among the ones that arrive safely.
You can pack to avoid problems. Some items should never be put into a bag you plan to check into the cargo compartment:
Things like this should be carried on your person or packed in a carry-on bag that will fit under the seat. Remember, the only way to be sure your valuables are not damaged or lost is to keep them with you. Even if your bag is not lost, it could be delayed for a day or two. Don't put perishables in a checked bag; they may spoil if it is delayed. It is wise to put items that you will need during the first 24 hours in a carry-on bag (e.g. toiletries, a change of underwear). Check with the airline for its limits on the size, weight, or number of carry-on pieces. (There is no single federal standard.) If you are using more than one airline, check on all of them. Inquire about your flight; different airplanes can have different limits. Don't assume that the flight will have unlimited closet space for carry-on garment bags; some may have to be checked. If you plan to go shopping at your destination and bring your purchases aboard as carry-on, keep the limits in mind. If you check these purchases, however, carry the receipts separately; they may be necessary for a claim if the merchandise is lost or damaged. Don't put anything into a carry-on bag that could be considered a weapon (e.g. scissors, pen knife).
Checked baggage is also subject to limits. On most domestic and international flights, it's two checked bags (three if you don't have any carry-on luggage). There can be an extra charge if you bring more, or if you exceed the airline's limits on the size of the bags. On some flights between two foreign cities, your allowance may be based on the weight of the bags rather than the number of pieces. The same two bags that cost you nothing to check when you started your trip could result in expensive excess-baggage charges under a weight system. Ask the airlines about the limit for every segment of your international trip before you leave home, especially if you have a stopover of a day or two or if you are changing carriers. The bags you check should be labeled- inside and out-with your name, address and phone number. Add the name and address of a person to contact at your destination if it's practical to do so. Almost all of the bags that are misplaced by airlines do turn up sooner or later. With proper labeling, the bag and its owner can usually be reunited within a few hours. Don't overpack a bag. This puts pressure on the latches, making it easier for them to pop open. Also, lock your bags. The locks aren't very effective against pilferage, but they help to keep the latches from springing. If you plan to check any electrical equipment, glassware, small appliances, pottery, typewriters, musical instruments or other fragile items, they should be packed in a container specifically designed to survive rough handling* preferably a factory-sealed carton or a padded hard- shell carrying case.
Don't check in at the last minute. Even if you make the flight, your bag may not. If you miss the airline's check-in deadline, the carrier might not assume liability for your bag if it is delayed or lost. If you have a choice, select flights that minimize the potential for baggage disruption. The likelihood of a bag going astray increases from #1 to #4 below (i.e., #1 is safest): 1) nonstop flight 2) direct or 'through' flight (one or more stops, but no change of aircraft) 3) online connection (change of aircraft but not airlines) 4) interline connection (change of aircraft and airlines) When you check in, remove straps and hooks from garment bags that you are sending as checked baggage. These can get caught in baggage processing machinery, causing damage to the bag. The airline will put baggage destination tags on your luggage and give you the stubs to use as claim checks. Make sure you get a stub for every bag. Don't throw them away until after you get your bags back and you check the contents. Not only will you need them if a claim is necessary, but you may need to show them to security upon leaving the baggage-claim area. Each tag has a three-letter code and flight number that show the baggage sorters on which plane and to which airport your luggage is supposed to go. Double-check the tag before your bags go down the conveyor belt. (The airline will be glad to tell you the code for your destination when you make reservations or buy your tickets.) Your bags may only be checked to one of your intermediate stops rather than your destination city if you must clear Customs short of your final destination, or if you are taking a connection involving two airlines that don't have an interline agreement. Be sure all of the tags from previous trips are removed from your bag, since they may confuse busy baggage handlers.
Claiming your bags
Many bags look alike. After you pull what you think is your bag off the carousel, check the name tag or the bag tag number. If your bag arrives open, unlocked or visibly damaged, check right away to see if any of the contents are missing or damaged. Report any problems to the airline before leaving the airport; insist on filling out a form. Open your suitcase immediately when you get to where you are staying. Any damage to the contents or any pilferage should be immediately reported to the airline by telephone. Make a note of the date and time of the call, and the name and telephone number of the person you spoke with. Follow up immediately with a certified letter to the airline.
If your suitcase arrives smashed or torn, the airline will usually pay for repairs. If it can't be fixed, they will negotiate a settlement to pay you its depreciated value. The same holds true for belongings packed inside. Airlines may decline to pay for damage caused by the fragile nature of the broken item or inadequate packing, rather than the airline's rough handling. Carriers may also refuse to give you money for your damaged items inside the bag when there's no evidence of external damage to the suitcase. But airlines generally don't disclaim liability for fragile merchandise packed in its original factory sealed carton, a cardboard mailing tube, or other container designed for shipping and packed with protective padding material. When you check in, airline personnel should let you know if they think your suitcase or package may not survive the trip intact. Before accepting a questionable item, they will ask you to sign a statement in which you agree to check it at your own risk. But even if you do sign this form, the airline might be liable for damage if it is caused by its own negligence shown by external injury to the suitcase or package.
If you and your suitcase don't connect at your destination, don't panic. The airlines have very sophisticated systems that track down about 98% of the bags they misplace and return them to their owners within hours. In many cases they will absorb reasonable expenses you incur while they look for your missing belongings. You and the airline may have different ideas of what's reasonable, however, and the amount they will pay is subject to negotiation.
If your bags don't come off the conveyor belt, report this to the airline before you leave the airport. Insist that they fill out a form and give you a copy, even if they say the bag will be in on the next flight. If the form doesn't contain the name of the person who filled it out, ask for it. Get an appropriate phone number for following up (not the Reservations number). Don't assume that the airline will deliver the bag without charge when it is found; ask them about this. Most carriers set guidelines for their airport employees that allow 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. If the airline misplaces sporting equipment, it will sometimes pay for the rental of replacements. For replacement clothing or other articles, the carrier might offer to absorb only 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.) When you've checked in fresh foods or any other perishable goods and they are ruined because their delivery is delayed, the airline won't reimburse you. Carriers may be liable if they lose or damage perishable items, but they won't accept responsibility for spoilage caused by a delay in delivery. Airlines are liable for provable consequential damages up to the amount of their liability limit (see below) in connection with the delay. 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. (It's okay to surrender your baggage claim tags to the airline when you fill out a form at the airport, as long as you get a copy of the form and it notes that you gave up the tags.) Call or write the airline's consumer office when you get home.
Once your bag is declared officially lost, you will have to submit a claim. This usually means you have to fill out a second, more detailed form. Check on this; failure to complete the second form when required could delay your claim. Missing the deadline for filing it could invalidate your claim altogether. The airline will usually refer your claim form to a central office, and the negotiations between you and the airline will begin. If your flight was a connection involving two carriers, the final carrier is normally the one responsible for processing your claim even if it appears that the first airline lost the bag. Airlines don't automatically pay the full amount of every claim they receive. First, they will use the information on your form to estimate the value of your lost belongings. Like insurance companies, airlines consider the depreciated value of your possessions, not their original price or the replacement costs. If you're tempted to exaggerate your claim, don't. Airlines may completely deny claims they feel are inflated or fraudulent. They often ask for sales receipts and other documentation to back up claims, especially if a large amount of money is involved. If you don't keep extensive records, you can expect to dicker with the airline over the value of your goods. Generally, it takes an airline anywhere from six weeks to three months to pay you for your lost luggage. When they tender a settlement, they may offer you the option of free tickets on future flights in a higher amount than the cash payment. Ask about all restrictions on these tickets, such as "blackout" periods and how far before departure you are permitted to make a reservation.
Limits on liability
If your bags are delayed, lost or damaged on a domestic trip, the airline can invoke a ceiling of $1250 per passenger on the amount of money they'll pay you. When your luggage and its contents are worth more than that, you may want to purchase "excess valuation," if available, from the airline as you check in. This is not insurance, but it will increase the carrier's potential liability. The airline may refuse to sell excess valuation on some items that are especially valuable or breakable, such as antiques, musical instruments, jewelry, manuscripts, negotiable securities and cash. On international trips, the liability limit is set by a treaty called the Warsaw Convention. Unless you buy excess valuation, the liability limit is $9.07 per pound ($20 per kilo). In order to limit its liability to this amount, the airline must use one of the following procedures:
This international limit also applies to domestic segments of an international journey. This is the case even if the domestic and international flights are on separate tickets and you claim and re-check your bag between the two flights. Keep in mind that the liability limits are maximums. If the depreciated value of your property is worth less than the liability limit, this lower amount is what you will be offered. If the airline's settlement doesn't fully reimburse your loss, check your homeowner's or renter's insurance; it sometimes covers losses away from the residence. Some credit card companies and travel agencies offer optional or even automatic supplemental baggage coverage.
Except for toiletries and medicines totaling no more than 75 ounces, it is illegal and extremely dangerous to carry on board or check in your luggage any of the following hazardous materials:
Matches (both 'strike anywhere' matches and safety or 'book' matches) may only be carried on your person. If you must travel with any of these materials, check with the airline's air freight department to see if special arrangements can be made. A violation of the hazardous materials restrictions can result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation or a criminal penalty of up to $500,000 and/or up to 5 years in jail.
Under U.S. government rules, smoking is prohibited on all domestic scheduled-service flights except for flights over six hours to or from Alaska or Hawaii. This ban applies to domestic segments of international flights, on both U.S. and foreign airlines (e.g., the Chicago / New York leg of a flight that operates Chicago/ New York / London). The ban does not apply to nonstop international flights, even during the time that they are in U.S. airspace (e.g., a Chicago / London flight). The prohibition applies in the passenger cabin and lavatories, but not in the cockpit. Smoking is also banned on other scheduled-service flights by U.S. airlines that are operated with planes seating fewer than 30 passengers (e.g., certain "commuter" flights to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean). Cigar and pipe smoking is banned on all U.S.-carrier flights (scheduled and charter, domestic and international). The following rules apply to U.S. airlines on flights where smoking is not banned (e.g. international flights, domestic charter flights). These regulations do not apply to foreign airlines; however, most of them provide non-smoking sections (although they may not guarantee seating there or expand the section).
None of the regulations described in this chapter apply to charter flights performed with small aircraft by on-demand air taxi operators.
Over 40 million Americans have disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act and the DOT rule that implements it set out procedures designed to ensure that these individuals have the same opportunity as anyone else to enjoy a pleasant flight. Here are some of the major provisions of the rule.
It's wise to call the airline again before your trip to reconfirm any assistance that you have requested. For additional details, see "Other Sources of Information" at the end of this pamphlet for information on ordering the booklet New Horizons for the Air Traveler with a Disability.
Virtually all major U.S. airlines have a frequent-flyer plan, and many foreign carriers are starting them. These programs allow you to earn free trips, upgrades (e.g., from Coach to First Class) or other awards based on how often you fly on that airline. In some programs you can earn credit by using specified hotels, rental car companies, credit cards, etc. It doesn't cost anything to join a program, and you can enroll in the programs of any number of different airlines. However, it may not be to your advantage to "put all your eggs in one basket" with one plan by accumulating a high mileage balance only to find out later that another carrier's program suits your needs better. Here are some things to look at when selecting a frequent-flyer program.
After you join a program, there are other things that you should know:
Throughout this booklet, we have tried to provide you general information about airline travel. It is important to realize, however, that each airline has specific rules that make up your contract of carriage. These rules may differ among carriers. They include provisions such as check-in deadlines, refund procedures, responsibility for delayed flights, and many other things.
For domestic travel, an airline may provide all of its contract terms on or with your ticket at the time you buy it. Many small "commuter" carriers use this system. Other airlines may elect to "incorporate terms by reference." This means that you are not given all the airline's rules with your ticket-most of them are contained in a separate document which you can inspect on request. If an airline elects to "incorporate by reference" it must provide conspicuous written notice with each ticket that: 1) it incorporates terms by reference, and 2) these terms may include liability limitations, claim-filing deadlines, check-in deadlines, and certain other key terms. The airline must also:
There are additional notice requirements for contract terms that affect your air fare. Airlines must provide a conspicuous written notice on or with the ticket concerning any "incorporated" contract terms that:
If an airline incorporates contract terms by reference and fails to provide the required notice about a particular rule, the passenger will not be bound by that rule.
Not all of the detailed requirements for disclosing domestic contract terms apply to international travel. Airlines file "tariff rules" with the government for this transportation. Passengers are generally bound by these rules whether or not they receive actual notice about them. Every international airline must keep a copy of its tariff rules at its airport and city ticket offices. You have a right to examine these rules. The airline agents must answer your questions about information in the tariff, and they must help you locate specific tariff rules, if necessary. If the airline keeps its tariff in a computer rather than on paper, there are additional disclosure requirements which are similar to those for domestic contract terms. The most important point to remember, whether your travel is domestic or international, is that you should not be afraid to ask questions about a carrier's rules. You have a right to know the terms of your contract of carriage. It is in your best interest, as well as that of the airline, for you to ask in advance about any matters of uncertainty.
Unlike most products, travel services usually have to be paid for before they are delivered. This creates opportunities for disreputable individuals and companies. Some travel packages turn out to be very different from what was presented or what the consumer expected. Some don't materialize at all! If you receive an offer by phone or mail for a free or extremely low-priced vacation trip to a popular destination (often Hawaii or Florida), there are a few things you should look for:
If you encounter any of these symptoms, proceed cautiously. Ask for written information to be sent to you; any legitimate travel company will be happy to oblige. If they don't have a brochure, ask for a day or two to think it over; most bona fide deals that are good today will still be good two days from now. If they say no to both requests, this probably isn't the trip for you. Some other advice:
For further advice, see "Other Sources of Information" at the end of this brochure for details on how to order the Federal Trade Commission's pamphlet Telemarketing Travel Fraud.
Flying is a routine activity for millions of Americans, and raises no health considerations for the great majority of them. However, there are certain things you can do to ensure that your flight is as comfortable as possible. Changes in pressure can temporarily block the Eustachian tube, causing your ears to 'pop' or to experience a sensation of fullness. To equalize the pressure, swallow frequently; chewing gum sometimes helps. Yawning is also effective. Avoid sleeping during descent; you may not swallow often enough to keep ahead of the pressure change. If yawning or swallowing doesn't help, use the 'valsalva maneuver':
Babies are especially troubled by these pressure changes during descent. Having them feed from a bottle or suck on a pacifier will often provide relief. Avoid flying if you have recently had abdominal, eye or oral surgery, including a root canal. The pressure changes that occur during climb and descent can result in discomfort. If you have an upper respiratory or sinus infection, you may also experience discomfort resulting from pressure changes. Postpone your trip if possible. (Check to see if your fare has cancellation or change penalties.) A final tip on pressure changes: they cause your feet to swell. Try not to wear new or tight shoes while flying.
Alcohol and coffee both have a drying effect on the body. Airliner cabin air is relatively dry to begin with, and the combination can increase your chances of contracting a respiratory infection. If you wear contact lenses, the low cabin humidity and/or consumption of alcohol or coffee can reduce your tear volume, leading to discomfort if you don't blink often enough. Lens wearers should clean their lenses thoroughly before the flight, use lubricating eye drops during the flight, read in intervals, and take the lenses out if they nap. (This may not apply to extended wear lenses; consult your practitioner.) If you take prescription medications, bring enough to last through your trip. Take along a copy of the prescription, or your doctor's name and telephone number, in case the medication is lost or stolen. The medicine should be in the original prescription bottle in order to avoid questions at security or Customs inspections. Carry it in a pocket or a carry-on bag; don't pack it in a checked bag, in case the bag is lost.
You can minimize the effects of jet lag in several ways:
Try to use a rest room in the airport terminal before departure. On some flights the cabin crew begins beverage service shortly after the "Fasten Seat Belts" sign is turned off, and the serving cart may block access to the lavatories.
Air travel is so safe you'll probably never have to use any of the advice we're about to give you. But if you ever do need it, this information could save your life. Airline passengers usually take safety for granted when they board an airplane. They tune out the crew's pre-flight announcements or reach for a magazine instead of the cards that show how to open the emergency exit and what to do if the oxygen mask drops down. Because of this, people are needlessly hurt or killed in accidents they could have survived. Every time you board a plane, here are some things you should do:
The plastic card in the seat pocket in front of you will review some of the safety information announced by the flight attendant. Read it. It also tells you about emergency exits and how to find and use emergency equipment such as oxygen masks. As you're reading the card look for your closest emergency exit, and count the number of rows between yourself and this exit. Remember, the closest exit may be behind you. Have a second escape route planned in case the nearest exit is blocked. This is important because people sometimes head for the door they used to board the plane, usually in the front of the first class cabin. This wastes time and blocks the aisles. Oxygen masks aren't the same on all planes. Sometimes they drop down in front of you. On some aircraft, however, you'll have to pull them out of a compartment in front of your seat. In either case, you must tug the plastic tube slightly to get the oxygen flowing. If you don't understand the instructions about how the mask works, ask a flight attendant to explain it to you. When the plane is safely in the air and has reached its cruising level, the pilot usually turns off the "fasten seat belt" sign. He or she usually suggests that passengers keep their belts buckled anyway during the flight in case the plane hits rough air. Just as seat belts should always be worn in cars, they should always be fastened in airplanes.
If you are ever in an air accident, you should remember these things:
After an air accident, the National Transportation Safety Board always talks to survivors to try to learn why they were able to make it through safely. They've discovered that, as a rule, it does help to be prepared. Avoiding serious injury or surviving an air accident isn't just a matter of luck; it's also a matter of being informed and thinking ahead. Are you one of those people who jumps up as soon as the plane lands, gathers up coat, suitcase and briefcase, and gets ready to sprint while the plane is still moving? If so, resist the urge. Planes sometimes make sudden stops when they are taxiing to the airport gate, and passengers have been injured when they were thrown onto a seat back or the edge of a door to an overhead bin. Stay in your seat with your belt buckled until the plane comes to a complete halt and the 'fasten seat belt' sign is turned off. Never smoke in airplane restrooms. Smoking was banned in all but the designated smoking sections after an accident killed 116 people in only 4 minutes, apparently because a careless smoker left a burning cigarette butt in the trash bin. There is a penalty of up to $2,000 for disabling a lavatory smoke detector. Also, don't smoke in the aisle. If there is a sudden bump you could stumble and burn yourself or another passenger. Lit cigarettes have also flown out of passengers' hands and rolled under seats.
When passengers comment on airline service, most airlines do listen. They analyze and keep track of the complaints and compliments they receive and use the information to determine what the public wants and to identify problem areas that need special attention. They also try to resolve individual complaints. Like other businesses, airlines have a lot of discretion in how they respond to problems. While you do have some rights as a passenger, your demands for compensation will probably be subject to negotiation and the kind of action you get depends in large part on the way you go about complaining. Start with the airline. Before you call or write to DOT or some other agency for help with an air travel problem, you should give the airline a chance to resolve it. As a rule, airlines have trouble-shooters at the airports (they're usually called Customer Service Representatives) who can take care of many problems on the spot. They can arrange meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers, write checks for denied boarding compensation, arrange luggage repairs and settle other routine claims or complaints
If you can't resolve the problem at the airport and want to file a complaint, it's best to call or write the airline's consumer office at its corporate headquarters. Take notes at the time the incident occurs and jot down the names of the carrier employees with whom you dealt. Keep all of your travel documents (ticket receipts, baggage check stubs, boarding passes, etc.) as well as receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses that were incurred as a result of the mishandling. Here are some helpful tips should you choose to write a letter.
If you follow these guidelines, the airlines will probably treat your complaint seriously. Your letter will help them to determine what caused your problem, as well as to suggest actions the company can take to keep the same thing from happening to other people.
Contacting the Department of Transportation
If you want to put your complaint about an airline on record with DOT, you can call the Aviation Consumer Protection Division at (202) 366-2220 to record your complaint. Or write:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division,
If you write, please be sure to include your address and a daytime telephone number, with area code. Letters from consumers help us spot problem areas and trends in the airline industry. We use our complaint files to document the need for changes in DOT's consumer protection regulations and, where warranted, as the basis for enforcement action. In addition, every month we publish a report with information about the number of complaints we receive about each airline and what problems people are having. You can write or call us for a free single copy of this Air Travel Consumer Report, which also has statistics that the airlines file with us on flight delays, oversales and mishandled baggage. (Data from recent reports are online on this home page.) If your complaint is about something you feel is a safety or security hazard, write to the Federal Aviation Administration:
Assistant Administrator for System
or call: (800) FAA-SURE. After office hours, if you want to report something that you believe is a serious safety hazard, call the Aviation Safety Hotline at 1-800-255-1111.
Local consumer help programs
In most communities there are consumer help groups that try to mediate complaints about businesses, including airlines and travel agencies.
Your last resort
If nothing else works, small claims court might be the best way for you to help yourself. Many cities have these courts to settle disputes involving relatively small amounts of money and to reduce the red tape and expense that people generally fear when they sue someone. An airline can generally be sued in small claims court in any jurisdiction where it operates flights or does business. You can usually get the details of how to use the small claims court in your community by contacting your city or county office of consumer affairs, or the clerk of the court. As a rule, small claims court costs are low, you don't need a lawyer, and the procedures are much less formal and intimidating than they are in most other types of courts. See "Other Sources of Information" at the end of this pamphlet for details on how to order a free brochure, Consumers Tell It to the Judge.
Availability and prices subject to change.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
"Plane Talk." A series of facts sheets on specialized topics. Free. -Frequent Flyer Programs -Tips on Avoiding Baggage Problems -'Defensive Flying' -Public Charter Flights -Transporting Live Animals -Passengers With Disabilities
"Kids and Teens in Flight." When children fly alone. Free.
"Consumers Tell It to the Judge." Small Claims court. Free.
"Air Travel Consumer Report." Single copies free. Statistics for the industry and for individual airlines on: -Delayed and canceled flights -Oversales -Baggage problems -Consumer complaints to DOT
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
"Your Trip Abroad." Customs, shots, insurance. $1.25.
"A Safe Trip Abroad." Precautions against robbery, terrorism. $1.00.
"Travel Tips for Older Americans." $1.00.
For the following brochure, write to:
"Foreign Entry Requirements." Visa and other requirements for many foreign countries. 50 cents.
U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE
"Know Before You Go." Customs advice for entering the U.S. Free.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
"Telemarketing Travel Fraud." Travel scams marketed by phone. Free.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
"Travelers' Tips." Bringing plant and animal products into the U.S. Free.
"Traveling By Air with your Pet." Free.
U.S. PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE
"Health Information for International Travelers" $6.00 (182 pp.).
AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS
(Send a long self-addressed stamped envelope)
"Air Travel Tips" [for pets]. Free.
"Airline Travel With Your Bird." Free
AVIATION CONSUMER ACTION PROJECT
"Facts and Advice for Airline Passengers." $2.00.
BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU
"Low-Cost Air and Ticket Consolidators" $3.00 (4 pp.).
CONSUMER INFORMATION CENTER
A number of the federal government brochures listed above, as well as many others, are available from the Consumer Information Center. If you are thinking of ordering publications from several agencies, it may be more convenient to request a free CIC catalog by writing to Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009. You may also call toll-free 1-888-878-3256.
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