Just like in the European Union under EU 261, Brazilian ANAC 400, and select countries under the Montreal Convention, US passengers are protected against certain flight issues, including denied boarding and luggage issues. Unfortunately, for most other disruptions, their protection is limited, so it’s important to understand your rights. In this article, we will be exploring these rights in detail, breaking down each one so you can confidently navigate any situation that might arise during your air travel. We’ll also share some helpful tips on how to effectively claim any compensation you may be entitled to, ensuring that your passenger rights are always upheld. So whether you’re a frequent flyer or an occasional vacationer, stay tuned for a comprehensive guide to US air passenger protection rights. Information in this article was updated in 2023.

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Key Takeaways

  • US air passenger rights are predominantly based on contract law and thus depend largely on individual airlines’ terms and conditions, making it essential for passengers to read these carefully before flying.
  • While there isn’t a single overarching law for air passenger rights in the US, specific protections exist against common issues such as denied boarding due to overbooking, extended tarmac delays, and luggage mishandling.
  • Compensation in the US varies greatly depending on the airline and circumstances of the disruption, but passengers could claim up to $1,350 for denied boarding due to overbooking.
  • Passengers dealing with luggage issues can expect compensation under the US Department of Transportation regulations, with airlines required to repair, replace, or pay for baggage damaged, lost, or delayed while under their control.
  • Claiming compensation requires passengers to file a claim with the airline, either independently or through a specialized flight compensation company. Keeping all documentation and getting written confirmations from the airline can help strengthen their case.

What are US Air Passenger Rights?

Unfortunately, there’s not a broad regulation that protects passengers flying in and out of the United States, so you may be better off pursuing compensation if you are eligible at your point of origin or destination. If that’s not the case, don’t worry. You may still be able to recoup some of your losses. You just need to get a little more creative.

Carrier Laws

If you want to pursue compensation when flying within the United States, it’s mostly based on contract law. That means whatever airline passenger rights are written into their terms and conditions or conditions of carriage is what you’ll want to read up on. These vary from airline to airline, so consider them carefully. Because they are written by the airline, they often do not favor the passenger like other global flight regulations.

Additional Laws

There are one-off laws on the books that provide passengers with protection. For example, tarmac delay laws require passengers to be offered food and more after two hours and the option to deboard after three hours unless safety and security are of concern.

Additionally, there are laws in place if you are the casualty of overbooking, though you’ll want to think twice if you take the free voucher. You could be entitled to more if you file a claim against them. Lastly, if a US airline damages, loses, or delays your bag, you may also be entitled to compensation, so make sure that you file a claim.

In all cases, you’ll want to make sure you save all your documentation and get anything in writing from the airline that you can. This will help strengthen your case as you go up against their airline. US laws favor the business rather than the consumer, so you need all the help you can get.

What Compensation Can I Get?

Because there are no formal, universal laws in place in the United States, what compensation you get will depend on the airline, the circumstances, and in some cases, even the customer service agent. If they are feeling generous, you may get more, so remember to always treat all with kindness. Whatever your issue is is not their fault.

Denied Boarding

Overbooking is one area where there are some protections in place. If you are denied boarding by no fault of your own, then you can claim up to $1,350 in compensation. They can offer you this compensation immediately at the airport, so you will not have to wait or deal with additional customer service agents. The airline will also need to make sure they put you on the next available flight, so if they overbook and you’re not in a hurry, this may be a blessing.

Other Delays

Read your airline’s terms and conditions to understand what you may be entitled to if you face other delays or cancellations. Some airlines will offer a goodwill gesture of vouchers, miles, and other discounts to loyal and patient customers, so it’s worthwhile to contact their customer service team to see what they can do for you.

Remember, it’s not their fault, so don’t take your frustration out on them. They are not obligated to do anything for you, unlike other international-based carriers.

Luggage Issues

Under the US Department of Transportation, airlines are responsible for repairing or reimbursing passengers for issues with their baggage that occur when the baggage is under their control, though there are maximum limits and exclusions. If your bag is delayed, they will be responsible for incidental costs you incur as a result.

Read their contracts of carriage for full details. If you have an issue with your luggage, you should contact your carrier immediately.

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Types of Disruptions Protected

Just because there’s not a single law in place doesn’t mean you aren’t covered when you face disruptions while traveling in the United States. On the contrary, you can be compensated for some of the most common issues like denied boarding, tarmac delays, and luggage issues. The amount may vary from airline to airline unless otherwise specified by the US Department of Transportation.

Denied Boarding due to Overbooking

Overbooking is a common practice, no matter how irritating it may be. However, it doesn’t become an issue until there are more people who show up for the flight than there are seats available. If this happens, you are protected in the United States. Not only is the airline required to book you on another flight, but they also need to compensate you for your inconvenience.

You may receive up to $1,350 in overbooking compensation, which is great if you have some flexibility in your arrival time. These laws apply to all traveling within the United States, not just US citizens. If you voluntarily give up your seat, you may forfeit your right to additional compensation.

Tarmac Delays

If you’ve ever been sitting on a runway waiting to either deplane or take off, you understand how frustrating it can be. You’re so close – and then because of an issue that’s out of your control – you’re just stuck. The only thing you’re left with is your growing anger and anxiety as you wait. While you’re not entitled to compensation after these delays, you still have rights.

  • After two hours, you should be provided with food, water, lavatories, and medical care (if needed).
  • After three hours, you should be given the option to deplane as long as it’s safe to do so.

If you voluntarily deplane, you will be responsible for arranging your flight and rerouting your luggage with the airlines. If you involuntarily deplane, the partner will take these steps on your behalf.


The US Department of Transportation has some solid laws in place to help protect customers should their luggage be lost, damaged, or delayed as a result of airline negligence. Once the luggage is in their possession, and you have records of this transfer of possession, you are protected. There are maximums in place, so you won’t be able to overclaim your luggage issues. In addition, there are some exclusions to these rules, so you’ll want to check the airline’s terms closely.

If you have to buy additional clothing and items because they lost your luggage, the airline will also be required to compensate you for the value of your new items. It’s in their best interest to treat your luggage with care and get it to you as quickly as possible. Most airlines are able to recover your bags, though if not, you’ll want to file a claim as soon as possible.

US air passenger laws favor the business. They may offer reimbursement, miles, and other perks as a gesture of goodwill, but they are not required to do so.

Refunds & Flight Ticket Replacements

Vouchers and reimbursement may seem like a good idea, but you’ll want to think twice before you accept it, especially if the flight is overbooked. If you accept it, you will likely be unable to pursue additional compensation.

Remember, if your flight is overbooked, you may be eligible for compensation of up to $1,350, depending on the flight, destination, and more. In addition, they are required to rebook you on the next flight, so unless what they are offering is better than that, you may want to pause before you raise your hand. Some airlines will offer more compensation, so weigh your circumstances.

How to Make Your US Air Passenger Law Claim?

In order to get the compensation you deserve, you’ll need to file a claim. Airlines will not automatically credit your account. If you want to try to file a claim, you’ll need to either do so yourself or work with a specialized company.

If you want to submit the claim yourself, get your materials ready and take a deep breath. Contact their customer service team to make your case. You may be required to submit additional documentation, and you should hear back if they are offering your compensation. Luggage issues are more likely to be compensated under US DOT law.

You can also work with a specialized flight compensation company. You can find some of the best ones bellow.

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They are very familiar with US flight law and may be able to wrangle additional compensation you had no idea existed. Much like you’d do submitting yourself, the first step is to gather your information. Pick a company and file a claim. A representative will be in touch. If they take your case, you’ll only be required to pay if they win. Often, this is a flat fee taken off the top of your winnings. Additional fees may apply if they have to go to court for your case, but oftentimes the airline will settle.

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Unfortunately, US air passenger law isn’t as developed as other countries, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t get something. File a claim to see what you are entitled to. Often, airlines want to retain your business, so they will offer goodwill gestures to keep you happy and flying the friendly skies with them.


  • What are the basic rights of air passengers in the United States?

The basic rights of air passengers in the United States include the right to compensation for denied boarding due to overbooking, protection against extended tarmac delays with requirements for airlines to provide food, water, and the option to deplane, and recourse for lost, damaged, or delayed luggage. However, it’s important to note that these rights largely depend on the specific airline’s terms and conditions, and protections are not as comprehensive as in some other jurisdictions such as the EU or Brazil.

  • How is the compensation amount for denied boarding due to overbooking determined?

In the United States, passengers who are denied boarding due to overbooking and are not at fault can claim up to $1,350 in compensation. This compensation is typically offered immediately at the airport. This rule applies to all passengers flying within the US, regardless of their citizenship. However, if you voluntarily give up your seat, you may forfeit your right to this compensation.

  • What protections do passengers have under US law for delayed or lost luggage?

According to the US Department of Transportation, airlines are responsible for repairing or reimbursing passengers for issues with their baggage that occur when the baggage is under their control. If your bag is delayed, the airline is also responsible for incidental costs you incur as a result. There are maximum limits to these compensations and some exclusions may apply. It is important to read the airline’s terms and conditions carefully for full details.

  • What steps should passengers take to claim compensation in case of flight disruptions in the US?

To claim compensation for flight disruptions in the US, passengers need to file a claim with the airline. This usually involves contacting the airline’s customer service team and providing relevant documentation to support the claim. Remember to save all your documentation and get anything in writing from the airline that you can. Alternatively, passengers can work with a specialized flight compensation company to facilitate the process.

  • Are there any specific laws protecting passengers against extended tarmac delays in the US?

Yes, there are specific laws in the US that protect passengers against extended tarmac delays. For example, after two hours of delay on the tarmac, passengers must be offered food and water, and access to lavatories and medical care if needed. After three hours, passengers must be given the option to deplane, as long as it’s safe to do so. However, it’s important to note that passengers are not entitled to compensation after these delays.

About an Author

Scott Welsch

Scott Welsch is a London-based attorney. He specializes in travel law, and he wants to educate people on their rights as European travelers. Many flight compensation companies try to entice their customers with promises of speedy service, success rates, and money they have successfully returned. These look like the best options to the untrained eye and the frazzled traveler sitting on an airport floor. Our mission here is to keep the comparison list up to date, allowing you to work with the exceptional companies only that live up to their shiny promises.



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