Ever lost a bag and had to deal with an airline? It’s not pretty, unless of course you’re the Nigerian gentleman who just successfully sued Emirates for $1.74 million, after the airline lost his luggage containing the same amount in cash.

The United States just passed two rules for air travel though, which hold airlines more accountable when they deny boarding, or lose your luggage, in a positive change for all flyers. The new compensation caps don’t quite reach a million, but they’re better than they were before, so 2021 might not end up so bad, after all…

Increased Compensation For Denied Boarding And Lost Luggage

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has been chequered in recent months, with the passing of regulations which make it easier for airlines to ignore customer issues and even perhaps going a bit too far with bans on support animals. It’s not all bad news though.

Recently passed final rulings by the DOT raise the amounts airlines must pay when they deny a passenger boarding, or lose their luggage. The raised amounts will almost certainly lead to more generous ‘voucher’ compensation offers in lieu of having to hand out the cash. Here’s how the new amounts shake out…

a woman wearing a mask and gloves in an airplane

Higher Payout For Getting Bumped From A Flight

For domestic US flights delays between 1-2 hours, or international flights between 1-4 hours, where a confirmed passenger checks in on time and is denied boarding due to overbooking, or similar, airlines have historically been on the hook for $675 in cash due to compensate the passenger.

That’s now changing to $775, representing a $100 bump in the passengers favor.

For domestic delays over 2 hours, or international delays over 4 hours, the previous amount of $1350 is getting a $200 bump up, now requiring $1550 in compensation to any confirmed and ticketed passenger denied boarding and delayed for this period of time as a result.

In both cases, this only applies for flights leaving the USA, or within the USA, and won’t apply to flights departing other countries bound for the USA. In those instances, rules such as EC261, which govern flights from Europe to other parts of the world apply.

Can airlines offer more?

You bet, and they usually do – in vouchers.

Airlines hate parting ways with actual cash you can deposit into a bank account, and instead love to offer multiples of the required amount in vouchers. There’s even been instances of passengers being awarded $10,000 in vouchers, and still making it to their destination in the same day. Anything not to pay out the $1550 in actual cash, right?

Hot tip: You’re under no obligation to accept airline vouchers rather than cash, but used well, the higher amounts vouchers bring can be far more lucrative.

Airlines typically begin offering vouchers at check in, or the gate area when they know someone will be bumped, so it’s often you versus fellow passengers to see who cracks first. Accepting $10,000 in airline vouchers could fund five transatlantic business class tickets during a sale, whereas $1550 in cash is unlikely to cover one.

Keep Documentation

There’s two main snags to the new rules, where passengers could lose out. First, if weight and balance issues are cited by the pilots, it’s a no go for denied boarding compensation.

Second, if the plane is swapped for a smaller aircraft for an ambiguously ‘legitimate’ reason, compensation is also not due. However, there’s no more protection for airlines for flights under 30 people, so that’s a positive.

If you find yourself presented with one of these situations, it’s best to politely seek documentation of each issue, in case it appears the airline is attempting to wiggle out of responsibilities. Bringing these issues to the DOT can hold airlines accountable.

a group of people with luggage

Checked Bag Liability Increases To $3500

Airlines previously were on the hook for up to $3000 for officially declared lost luggage. If you’ve ever been through the process, you’ll know how long and typically frustrating the process is. While that doesn’t change, the maximum amount a passenger can claim is now $3500 instead of $3000, a significant bump of $500 in the passengers favor.

Perhaps more importantly, there are a variety of ways to ensure your luggage never gets lost permanently. Among the easiest – placing a paper copy of your itinerary inside the bag, in plain sight for anyone who may open the bag and properly labeling luggage tags.

There’s all sorts of new tech like digital GPS tiles to track your bag, and airlines have invested significantly in digital solutions to record each scan from check in, to loading and most importantly off loading too. But really, the old fashioned stuff works well too.

Good News For Air Passengers

Since the pivotal moment in 2017 which saw an American doctor dragged down the aisle of a plane because the flight was overbooked, we’ve seen a myriad of changes to US air travel policies.

For the first time in a fair while, it’s safe to say that these changes are almost entirely positive, and will encourage airlines to be extra generous with voucher offers in lieu of cash, while hopefully causing airline staff to take pause before creating unnecessary rifts with passengers.

HT: View From The Wing

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. Unfortunately one of the most important points about any of this is hoping one doesn’t get some low-level agent or employee who lies, doesn’t know the correct information/rules and starts with the “we don’t do that”, “it doesn’t work that way”, “you don’t need documentation, it’s all in your record”, etc. Add in a late night scenario or one agent to handle more than one person, no supervisor available, etc and you’re basically walking away with nothing or it was done all wrong. Try fixing that the next day or a week, month down the road only to find out all bets are off. I’d stand there till they give me the cash.

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