Whether it’s a lost bag, a canceled flight or a perceived slight by a flight attendant or gate agent, there’s hardly an airline passenger who doesn’t have a gripe against an airline. Any airline.

Given that there are about 25,000 flights a day in the U.S. carrying some 2 million passengers, is it any wonder that things can go wrong?

Passengers who fly infrequently don’t usually know what their rights are. Some think that if their flight is canceled and they can’t fly until the following morning, their carrier must provide lodging for the night. Not true. Or that an airline flying from New York to Los Angeles must provide a free warm meal. Also not true.

To address virtually every issue or question a consumer might have, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently updated its “Fly-Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.” Fly-Rights (airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm) gives the skinny on air fares, schedules and tickets, delayed and canceled flights, overbooking, baggage, frequent flier programs, travel scams, and safety and security. And should you want to file a complaint about your carrier’s service, Fly-Rights tells you how to do it.

For starters, know that airlines will fee you to death. If you change your reservation, there’s a fee. Want to check your bag? There’s a fee. An aisle seat? Another fee. When you plunk down your money for a ticket, you get a ticket. Be grateful if you get to your destination safely and on time. Forget about blankets, pillows and food — although carriers do provide beverages and sell snack boxes.

If you plan to book your flight by phone using an airline’s reservations agent, you’ll probably have to pay a fee — as much as $25. Airlines would rather you buy your ticket online. You can, however, get as much information as you need from a reservation agent, and then book online, thereby avoiding the fee. Draw up a list of questions — on schedules, prices, cancellation policies, baggage restrictions, meals — and keep asking. Be informed before you buy.

Besides fees, delayed and canceled flights are among the issues that upset passengers the most. You have every right to think you’re going to get to your destination on time, but airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, so plan accordingly. Weather, an antiquated air traffic control system and mechanical problems all can delay your departure.

Airlines are notoriously remiss about informing passengers about delays. Try to find out how long the delay will be. Initial estimates can grow into “creeping delays” when the problem is not resolved quickly. Carry a schedule of alternative flights on other airlines (and their phone numbers) or check your smart phone for options. If you find a seat on another airline, ask your carrier if it will endorse your ticket to the new carrier to avoid additional charges, Fly-Rights suggests. Airlines, however, are not required to do this.

Read full story at original source: by Alfred Borcover at ChicagoTribune