Even if it were to pass, an airline passenger bill of rights isn't going to save most travelers from enduring delays at the airportespecially during this busy summer travel season, when airplanes will be near or at full capacity and the usual onslaught of stormy summer weather is expected. "It's going to be a challenge. These are all ingredients for delay," says David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents 90% of all U.S. commercial airlines. But travelers can improve their odds of avoiding major hassles by using these tips suggested by airline experts.
1. Book flights wisely. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recommends that passengers schedule their flights for early in the day, which are the least likely to be delayed. Also try to schedule at least an hour between connecting flights, especially if they are with different airlines. And book with airlines that have a strong track record of on-time arrivals, as charted monthly by the DOT.
2. Be a savvy packer. Know what you can and can't take with you in your carry-on baggage, as listed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Liquids and gels are of special concern. If carried on, they must be less than 3 ounces each, all kept together in only 1 quart-sized plastic baggie, and scanned individually by security. Castelveter recommends that travelers keep their baggie with the liquids and gels at the top of their carry-on luggage, so security personnel "don't have to go digging through them at the security counter."
3. Check for delays before leaving for the airport. Airlines list the status of their flights online and via a toll-free hotline, but passengers should also check the FAA Delays Map that lists delays by airports.
4. Know the short cuts. Passengers can avoid long lines by printing out e-tickets at home and checking in at the airline's electronic kiosks. Passengers can also speed up security lines by keeping their ID's handy at all times.
5. Pack enough food and medication, and buy water before boarding. On the off-chance that a plane is stranded on the tarmac for several hours, passengers should be prepared to feed, hydrate and medicate themselves if necessary, says Kate Hanni, president of the Coalition for an Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights.
6. Get on the plane as early as possible. Board the plane as soon as your ticket is called. "Airlines are much less likely to bump you off the plane involuntarily if you're already sitting on the plane," says David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.
7. Keep your cell phone charged and the phone number for the airline's customer service department handy. In the event of a flight cancellation, lines at the ticket counter may be long, so getting on the phone with the airline's reservation hotline doubles a passenger's chances of getting on another flight.
8. Know what you are entitled to. If requested, all airlines must present their passengers with a Contract of Carriage, which outlines what rights a passenger is entitled to in the event of a delay or cancellation. Depending on the airline and the circumstances, a passenger may receive a travel voucher, cash reimbursement, hotel accommodations and alternative means of transportation to their destination. After its massive delays in February including the stranding of nine airplanes on a JFK tarmac for up to ten hours JetBlue presented a Customer's Bill of Rights, which entitles passengers to $25 travel vouchers for delays as little as one hour (depending, of course, on the circumstances).
9. If all else is failing, remember Rule 240. Rule 240 is an agreement between the airlines that they will honor another airline's ticket if they have the means to do so. So if United Airlines has canceled its flight to Chicago but American Airlines' flight to Chicago is still scheduled to depart, a passenger could ask American to honor its United ticket. This tactic doesn't always work, especially with cheaper tickets. "If you've got a $240 ticket and the other airline only has an $800 seat available, the airline may not be required to honor your ticket," Stempler says. Still, it's worth asking politely.
10. Finally, learn how to count to 10. Keeping cool is key. Airline representatives and flight attendants will be more responsive to a respectful passenger, and hostile passengers may only make the situation worse for themselves.