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Know your passenger's 'Bill of Rights'

Spoiler alert: As an airline passenger, you're not entitled to much.

MINNEAPOLIS — Editor of the Thrifty Traveler, Kyle Potter says he's not flying for the holidays this year. When the travel expert says he's not traveling, it's a little unnerving isn't it?

"We have seen again and again and again airlines canceling, not just hundreds but thousands of flights over the course of a week or less," Potter said. "Every single time, it's the same core problem; which is, airlines downsized when the pandemic first hit, they shed staff by the thousands, they parked planes in the desert, and now they need those people back again. And they simply cannot grow fast enough to handle all the people who want to fly home for Thanksgiving and Christmas."

However, if you are brave and have decided to travel, you need to know this.

Rule number one: If an airline cancels a flight, you are entitled to a refund, as long as it touches U.S. soil. Not in voucher form, not in credit form, but in the form of the original payment.

"The Department of Transportation says they owe you the option of a refund," Potter said, pointing out that it's the one rule that all airlines need to follow.  "That doesn't apply to weather cancellations, there's an explicit opt-out for bad weather, that does not apply. But beyond that, mechanical issues, labor issues, crews not being in the right place, if the airline cancels your flight, they owe you a refund."

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Potter says airlines will try to play games with you on that refund.

"They'll try to force you to take a voucher, that may be good for only a couple of months or a year after your flight gets canceled," he said. "They play this game with consumers in this country where everything that passengers can rely on is in this 26-50 page document."

That document is the conditions or contracts of carriage. See below:

Of course, other airlines have theirs available online, too. They're easy to find.

These are the documents that really make it a "whatever-goes" type of situation for airlines. The onus is on the passenger to decide to read them. The little tidbits of information available in those contracts will help you become a better problem-solver, someone who is able to approach the airline with a solution that works for you, if and when an emergency happens.

"When things go wrong, the absolute best thing you can do is research the best solution that works for you, and bring it to the airline and say please do this for me," Potter said. "Ask nicely because whether it's a check-in agent or someone at the gate, you're talking over the phone or through text, those people have a lot of power to help you."

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