Flight Rights — USA Passenger Protection Laws

Under US airline passenger rights, USA travelers are protected against denied boarding and luggage issues. But unfortunately, for other types of disruption, flight rights in the USA are limited. That’s why passengers frequently make use of stronger laws like Europe’s EC 261 to claim compensation for cancellations and delays.

Wherever you were flying, the Compensation Check Tool will tell you what you are owed in just a few minutes.

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Flight compensation under air passenger rights USA

What are US air passenger rights?

Unlike the EU and Canada, the USA does not have one regulation that covers all air passenger rights. In fact, much of passenger protection is based on contract law. In plain language that means you’re protected by whatever airline passenger rights the USA airline has written into their Conditions of Carriage or Terms & Conditions. So, be sure to read those documents carefully!

Without a base level of protection set by national law, Conditions of Carriage vary from airline to airline, but most do not directly give passengers rights to compensation for issues like long delays or cancellations. Airlines may be persuaded to offer compensation as a gesture of goodwill, but passengers need to make a strong case for it.

There are also several unique laws we recommend US travelers are aware of when they fly. For example, US laws do ensure passengers receive compensation if they are denied boarding due to overbooking. You also have rights if your plane is ever stuck on the tarmac, and if a US airline damages, loses, or delays your baggage.

Confused about US airline passenger rights? We’ll check what you’re entitled to.

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What compensation can I get?

Passengers in the US are entitled to compensation if the airline denies boarding, or “bumps” them from a flight. Whilst airlines are allowed to overbook their flights (that is, sell more seats than they have available) the law says they have to pay passengers up to $1,350 in compensation if they subsequently don’t have a seat from them on the flight. This compensation should be paid to passengers directly at the airport, to ensure there’s no wait.

We frequently help US passengers claim up to $650 (€600) for delays and cancellations under international laws like Europe’s EC 261. However, if you were flying domestically it is still sometimes possible to get compensation for delays and last-minute cancellations even though there is no US air passenger law covering them. That’s because some airlines can be persuaded to offer compensation in the form of vouchers, air miles, or discounts as a goodwill gesture.

If you’ve had a delayed or canceled US flight, try our Compensation Check Tool. We’ll ask some details about what happened, and let you know if there’s a good chance we can get a payment from the airline for you.

Passenger bill of rights USA: in detail

Denied boarding laws in the USA

In the US it is fairly common for airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats on a plane — a practice known as overbooking. Usually, it isn’t a problem because not all passengers actually show up for the flight. However if all passengers do check in, the airline will have to refuse some of them — this is a denied boarding due to overbooking.

Because overbooking is a common practice in the USA, there are strong laws in place ensuring passengers are properly compensated. If you are denied boarding in the US you could be entitled to up to $1,350 overbooking compensation.

Additionally, the airline is required to book you on another flight as soon as possible, free of charge.

These laws don’t only apply to US citizens — any passenger, flying with any airline on a flight that departs from a United States airport is owed this compensation.

Airlines should explain and offer the compensation when you are denied boarding. If the airline hasn’t paid you compensation, and you didn’t voluntarily give up your seat, we can help you get the money you are owed.

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Tarmac delays

While US laws do not address delayed flights in general, there are laws concerning what happens when your flight is delayed after passengers have boarded. Passengers aren’t entitled to compensation, but there are strict rules to ensure they receive proper care. It’s a complex topic so we’ve written a blog post covering all your rights for US tarmac delays.

Luggage issues on US domestic flights

Passengers on US flights have clear rights to be reimbursed when it comes to damaged, delayed, and lost bags, which apply when you’re flying between US cities. Find out exactly what you’re entitled to on our delayed baggage compensation page.

Claiming under US flight laws with AirHelp

AirHelp may be able to help if:

  • You were denied boarding because of overbooking and didn’t receive compensation.

  • You were on a US domestic flight which was delayed over 4 hours.

  • The flight was within the last 3 years.

Why AirHelp?

AirHelp has been featured in:

USA Today LogoThe New York Times LogoWSJ LogoWashington Post

AirHelp is a part of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) whose mission is to promote and protect passengers’ rights.


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