Consumer Action explores frustrating travel fees and passenger rights

New report gives consumers a rundown of airline passenger rights

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As airline baggage fees continue to soar, lawmakers do little to address hefty travel fees, from $200 flight change charges to unavoidable baggage fees, even for carry-on items.  

In its latest issue of Consumer Action News, Consumer Action explains how airline fees are heavy baggage for today’s travelers and spells out airline passengers’ rights when traveling domestically and abroad.

Travel fees

Southwest Airlines is the only carrier that still allows passengers to fly with two pieces of luggage for free. Four major airlines—American, Delta, JetBlue and United—recently hiked baggage fees again, costing consumers at least $30 to check a bag.

Consumer Action explains that the full fare might not be the final fare, as fees and other costly options are sometimes tacked on during the purchase process.

The U.S. Senate has pulled a portion of legislation that would have required airline fees to be reasonable, related to airlines’ costs and fully transparent when booking. The Forbid Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous—or FAIR—Fees Act was part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill (S 1405) but was removed a few days before the final vote on Sept. 30 due to heavy lobbying by the airline industry.

What are your air passenger rights?

Believe it or not, travelers are not entitled to a refund on a domestic flight that is cancelled or delayed—only when they are involuntarily bumped. The lack of U.S. airline consumer protections may come as a surprise, but travel, meal vouchers and hotel stays are primarily based on individual airline policies, called “contracts of carriage.” See Knowing flyers’ rights empowers passengers.

However, if you are traveling on an international flight, you may be eligible for financial relief. For example, if your flight arrives more than three hours late—and departs from a EU country—you’ll typically qualify for about $700 in compensation. (Distance affects compensation.) Also, refunds are available for flight cancellations. For more on where to turn to learn if you are covered, see Flyers’ rights in the EU and Canada.

From time limits on the tarmac to fee disclosures, progress was made under the previous administration and delayed under the current one. Consumer Action offers tips on steps to take and rights to be aware of if your flight is delayed or cancelled.

The non-profit consumer advocacy group also weighs the pros and cons of buying a ticket through some of the most popular travel websites and points you to the sites that offer tools that rank specific flights (Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity) or help with travel planning and fee comparisons (Kayak). See Comparing large online third-party booking sites.

Consumer Action also offers consumers its Take Action tool to alert their elected officials about the need for stronger airline passenger rights.


Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

By providing consumer education materials in multiple languages, a free national hotline, a comprehensive website ( and annual surveys of financial and consumer services, Consumer Action helps consumers assert their rights in the marketplace and make financially savvy choices. Nearly 7,000 community and grassroots organizations benefit annually from its extensive outreach programs, training materials and support.




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