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How to File an Air Travel Complaint

by Myra Thomas about a year ago in airlines
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When and how to contact the DOT, FAA, or TSA.

Image credit: https://pixabay.com/users/michaelgaida-652234/

Commercial flights are the fastest and one of the safest means of travel, but that doesn’t mean the trip always goes smoothly. It is not uncommon for flights to be delayed or canceled, or for baggage to be lost. Many minor inconveniences and unexpected charges can be handled with the airline itself, but what do you do when the airline won’t resolve the issue? Or what if you have a more serious issue, such as an injury or discrimination complaint?

There are multiple government agencies that oversee air travel, and it is important to contact the correct one depending on the nature of your complaint.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

This agency oversees airline service issues. In most cases, you should try to resolve the issue with the airline before contacting the DOT. If you are unable to get a satisfactory resolution at the airport, you will want to check the airline’s website to find out how to register a complaint with their corporate headquarters. The DOT requires airlines to let consumers know how to file a complaint and to respond to them within 60 days.

If the airline fails to resolve the issue, you can file a complaint directly with the DOT. Once a complaint is filed, a Transportation Industry Analyst will forward the complaint to the airline, who is required to respond to the DOT and the consumer who filed the complaint. Once they receive the airline’s response, the Analyst will determine if a violation occurred and forward the information to an attorney to review.

The results of the investigation will be mailed to the consumer and airline, but it may take some time to process due to the high volume of complaints. They may require that the airline offer the consumer financial compensation, or issue a fine to the airline for serious offenses. The DOT also compiles all complaints in monthly reports that are available to the public.

Canceled Flights

The airline or booking agency is responsible for refunding canceled flights if you rebook elsewhere. If they fail to do so, contact your credit card company and file a complaint with the DOT.

Undisclosed Baggage Fees

Airlines and booking agencies are required to disclose all baggage fees at the time the reservation is made. If you arrive at the airport and are charged an unexpected baggage fee, report it to the agency or website where you booked, as well as to the DOT. If you can prove that you were not notified of the fee, you are entitled to a refund.

Delayed Flights

According to DOT regulations, if a plane is delayed on the tarmac for more than two hours, they must provide the passengers with food and water. If it is more than three hours, they are required to give passengers the option to deplane. If the flight is delayed before the passengers board, some airlines may offer food vouchers, but each one has its own policy.

Lost Baggage

If an airline loses your luggage, you will need to check the airline’s policy and register a complaint with them. The liability limit is set at $3,400 on domestic flights, so if they claim they are not able to provide adequate compensation, you should report them to the DOT.

Overbooked Flights

If you are denied boarding for your flight due to overbooking, you are entitled to compensation under federal law. The airline may offer you a voucher instead, but you should report them to the DOT if they offer the voucher but fail to disclose the compensation option.

Disability Access and Discrimination

The DOT prohibits unlawful discrimination due to disability, race, national identity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. If you experience unlawful discrimination from an airline employee or one of their contractors, they should be reported to the DOT. Depending on the nature of the issue and the employee in question, you may be able to file complaints with the FAA or TSA as well.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

The FAA oversees the safety of passengers in airports and while on the plane, as well as the actions of air traffic controllers. Safety violations and concerns should be reported for the protection of all passengers. You can also file a complaint with them against an airport or airline for disability access or discrimination issues.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

This agency handles airport security. If you notice a security issue or have experienced discrimination or unlawful searches by a TSA employee, you can file a complaint with them directly.

When To Take Legal Action

There are some cases where reporting to an agency is insufficient. For major or unresolved issues, or in cases where someone is injured, you may want to seek legal advice.

Class Actions

If you find out there is already a class action lawsuit against the airline in question for your particular issue, you may be able to be included in the suit. Or, if you find that many customers are having the same issue, you can contact a class action attorney yourself about filing a suit.


Airlines have a heightened duty of care when it comes to ensuring the safety of their passengers. Nevertheless, passengers are routinely injured by falling objects from overhead bins, food cars, turbulence, or defective products. If the injury is caused by the negligence of airline employees, you are entiltled to compensation and should contact an attorney that specializes in inflight injuries.

Plane Crashes

Plane crashes are rare, but are serious when they occur. According to the Montreal Convention, the airline is liable if passengers are injured or killed in a plane crash. Most of the world’s countries have ratified this treaty, but not all. This is another situation when you will want the advice of an attorney, preferably one that has experience with aviation accidents.


About the author

Myra Thomas

Myra Thomas is a freelance content writer. She is versed in a variety of topics, but specializes in sharing legal news and helpful how-to guides. Her focus is on creating easily accessible content which contains practical advice.

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