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As busy flying season arrives, know your rights

  • Article by: KERRI WESTENBERG
  • Star Tribune
  • November 19, 2011 - 5:12 PM

We've been lucky so far. While snow blanketed the Northeast in late October -- and airline passengers there were stuck in airports or on the tarmac -- we were still reveling in fall color.

But there's no denying that our time is coming. In Minnesota, falling snow and the busy holiday flying season often correspond, and that can lead to some unhappy travelers. Reduce the likelihood that you'll be one of them by knowing your rights and adopting a few good habits.

This Thanksgiving will be the first since the Passenger Bill of Rights passed in March. Carriers must now provide passengers with food, drinking water, comfortable cabin temperature and restrooms while a plane is delayed on the ground, and they must offer the possibility of deplaning after three hours or face high fines. There is now also a Department of Transportation airline consumer complaint line (1-202-366-2220).

While the airlines try to honor the rules (some failed in the face of that October snowstorm), here are a few ways you can ease any unexpected flight delays:

• Pack essentials, especially medications, in your carry-on bag and bring enough food and snacks to keep you nourished. Nothing like hunger to compound a bad situation.

• Keep a copy of your itinerary in an outer pocket of your checked bags. If you and your luggage should get separated, the airlines will know where it belongs.

• Put the customer service number of your airline into your mobile phone and dial it at the first sign of trouble. If your flight should be canceled, airlines will reroute you and everyone else, so it's a race to a few seats.

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter @kerriwestenberg.

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