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Monday, October 17, 2005

Flight Delayed? Be Sure to Review Your Contract of Carriage

Sunday's N.Y. Times Travel section reports that consumers' contracts with bankrupt airlines are enforceable.  Whether or not your airline carrier is in bankruptcy (chances are that it is), you might want to check the contract of carriage the next time your flight is delayed:

The full text of the contract is available on each airline's Web site or from an airline ticket counter. Although no two contracts look exactly the same, they are generally similar.

For short delays of a few hours, a "contract of carriage" might promise to provide customers with "a phone card, an amenity coupon offering the choice of frequent flier miles, a meal at the airport, or a beverage or headset on the aircraft."  For longer delays, the airline might guarantee the next nonstop flight with no extra charges.  The contract likely promises a full refund if the consumer's flight is canceled or the itinerary is significantly changed.

While the contract obligations of bankrupt airlines are enforceable, consumers will likely face a difficult time actually recovering promised refunds.  The article suggests a few avenues consumers might take to obtain the promised refund: file a claim in bankruptcy court (the Bankruptcy Code gives some priority to small unsecured claims), refute the charge if the ticket was purchased with a credit card, or contact the Department of Transportation by e-mail at airconsumer@dot.gov or by telephone at (202) 366-2220.  So, next time you are delayed in the airport, request your meal ticket and free phone card.  Then, pass the time on hold with your credit card company or trapped in the Department of Transportation's automated system. . . or, better yet, contact the unsecured creditors' committee of your airline carrier.

[Meredith R. Miller]

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