Explore. Experience. Engage.

What to Expect at the Airport

Got Your ID?
us passport mapFor domestic flights, a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID is all you need to show at check-in, security and boarding. If you're flying outside the country, you will need a passport -- even if you're traveling to places like Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, where driver's licenses were once accepted.

Please note that if you do not provide appropriate identification, you may be denied boarding or removed from a flight at any time.

Amenities at the Airport
Airport amenities vary widely from one city to another. Large international airports offer huge food courts, duty-free malls, spas, Internet access, art exhibits, even swimming pools -- while small airports may offer little more than a couple of small shops and eateries. (Should you grab food at the airport? Check out our guide to which airlines serve meals.)

Visit your airport's Web site ahead of time to see what you can expect -- and don't miss our readers' favorite airports for layovers.

Delays and Cancellations
Before you leave for the airport, call your airline or check its Web site to see if your flight is leaving as scheduled. You can also set up flight status alerts to be sent straight to your cell phone (many airlines provide this service, or you can use the aforementioned FlightStats.com).

Keep in mind that airlines are not required to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights. Each carrier differs in its policy, and there are no federal requirements. Most will book you on the next available flight. If your plane is delayed, the airline may pay for meals or a phone call, so ask.

Some will offer no amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or other conditions beyond their control. Compensation is required by law only if you are bumped from a flight that is oversold (discussed below). Although it is not required by law, many airlines are beginning to inform passengers about the causes for delays in their flights, through their own programs.

For more information, see Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope.

Overbooking and Bumping
Overbooking is legal, and most airlines do it. They are, however, required to ask people to volunteer to be bumped. If you are bumped involuntarily, you must be given a written statement describing your rights and explaining how the carrier decides who gets on an oversold flight and who doesn't, and you may keep your ticket and use it on another flight.

airline airplane ticket sleeve boarding passIf you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an "involuntary refund" for the ticket. You are also entitled to compensation, with a few exceptions. For example, if the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, you get nothing.

For more details, read our comprehensive guide to bumping and overbooking.

Lost or Delayed Luggage
If your bags are delayed, airlines usually agree to pay "reasonable" expenses until they're found. The amount is subject to negotiation, and you may have to fight for it. If your bags are not found, you must file a claim, which takes some time to process. It is normal to wait six weeks to three months for reimbursement, although some airlines are much more efficient than others. Beware of deadlines! If you miss the check-in deadline, the carrier is not responsible for your bag if it is delayed or lost.

Liability limitations for bags lost on international flights are governed by various international treaties. Learn more in our guide to lost luggage.

You May Also Like
  • Air Travel Tips
  • Air Passenger Rights
  • Write About Your Latest Trip
  • Airplane Horror Stories Part One and Part Two
  • Get the Free Independent Traveler Newsletter!

    --updated by Sarah Schlichter
  • X

    Thank You For Signing Up!

    Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add news@independenttraveler.com to your address book.

    We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our privacy policy and Terms of Use.