When you purchase an airline ticket you are also agreeing to that carrier’s “Rules of Carriage,” which are the rules put in place to cover an airline’s operation guidelines as they pertain to you—the ticket holder.
Since 2009, when the Department of Transportation issued a ruling on how long an airline can keep you on the tarmac, airlines have been revising their Rules of Carriage and slowly editing out more and more passenger rights, according to Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org. While customer satisfaction is up (in June the airlines scored 67 out of 100 – the best in a decade) thanks in part to the Department of Transportation, the rules that govern you as a passenger are being tweaked without notice. (After all, how many times have you actually read the Rules of Carriage when you purchase a ticket?)
For example, some airlines contract out their airplane maintenance to a third party. If that third party can’t provide needed maintenance for some reason, the airline could consider that an “Act of God,” or in other words—something out of their control. This means the airline has no liability. Does this also mean that they won’t do anything to assist you? Probably not, but it does limit what they are required to do for you.
If traveling on the so called “low-cost” airlines you may have even fewer options. Since some low-cost airlines don’t have ticketing agreements with the larger carriers, they are under no obligation to find you another flight on a different airline if your flight is canceled for some reason. For example, in Southwest’s Contract of Carriage their only obligation, if a flight is canceled, is to put you on one of their own alternate flights.
For more information on your rights as a ticket holder, you can visit FlyersRights.org. While there you can also find information on current legislation, help for flyers with disabilities, what to do if you are stranded, and general news and information.