13 Shocking Airline Practices You Never Knew Were Legal

Flying can be full of surprises, but not all of them are good. You might think you know all the tricks airlines use, but there’s a lot happening behind the scenes that most passengers don’t know about. Some of these practices might shock you – and believe it or not, they’re all perfectly legal.

From how they handle your luggage to what they can do if a flight is overbooked, airlines have some surprising rights. This article will reveal 13 airline practices that are allowed by law, even though they might seem unfair or strange to travelers.

1. Overbooking Flights

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Airlines can sell more tickets than seats on a plane. This practice is called overbooking, and it’s totally legal. They do this because some people don’t show up for their flights. If too many people do show up, the airline might ask for volunteers to take a later flight. They usually offer money or free tickets to those who agree to be bumped. If no one volunteers, they can choose who gets bumped, even if you’ve already checked in.

2. Changing Flight Times Without Notice

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Your flight time isn’t set in stone, even after you’ve booked it. Airlines can change departure times without telling you. They might move your flight earlier or later by several hours. Sometimes, they don’t even have to compensate you for this change. It’s a good idea to check your flight details regularly before you travel. This way, you won’t be caught off guard by any sudden changes.

3. No Compensation for Delays

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In many cases, airlines don’t have to pay you if your flight is delayed. This is true even for long delays that mess up your plans. They might give you food vouchers or hotel stays for overnight delays. But they don’t have to give you money back or extra compensation. The rules are different in Europe, where they have stronger passenger rights. In the U.S., it’s best to plan for possible delays.

4. Denying Boarding for Being Late

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If you’re late to the gate, even by a minute, the airline can deny you boarding. This is true even if the plane is still at the gate. They don’t have to wait for you or help you get on a later flight. The cutoff time is usually 15-30 minutes before departure. It’s best to arrive at the gate well before this time. Remember, your ticket is like a contract, and being on time is part of your end of the deal.

5. Charging Different Prices for the Same Seat

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You might pay a different price than the person sitting next to you. Airlines use complex systems to set ticket prices. These prices can change based on when you book, how you book, and even your browsing history. This practice is called dynamic pricing, and it’s completely legal. To get the best deal, try searching for flights in private browsing mode and at different times.

6. Not Guaranteeing Specific Aircraft

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When you book a flight, the airline doesn’t promise you’ll fly on a specific type of plane. They can switch to a different aircraft at any time. This might mean less legroom or different seat layouts than you expected. They don’t have to tell you about this change or offer compensation. It’s a good idea to check your flight details close to departure. This way, you can prepare for any changes.

7. Keeping Your Frequent Flyer Miles

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Airlines can take away your frequent flyer miles if you don’t use them. Most programs have expiration dates on miles. Some even charge fees to keep your account active. The airline owns these miles, not you. They can change the rules of their loyalty programs at any time. It’s important to read the fine print and use your miles before they expire.

8. Bumping You to a Lower Class

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Sometimes, airlines can move you from a higher class to a lower one. This might happen if they change to a smaller plane. They usually have to refund the difference in fare. But they don’t have to compensate you extra for the inconvenience. This practice is called involuntary downgrading. It’s rare but can happen, especially on less popular routes.

9. Not Compensating for Lost Luggage

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Airlines have limits on how much they’ll pay for lost luggage. This amount is often much less than the value of your stuff. They’re not responsible for certain items, like jewelry or electronics. Some airlines require you to have receipts to prove what was in your bag. It’s a good idea to keep valuable items in your carry-on. You might also want to consider travel insurance for expensive trips.

10. Refusing Passengers for Dress Code

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Airlines can deny you boarding if they don’t like how you’re dressed. Each airline has its own dress code rules. These rules can be vague and up to the staff’s judgment. Some have turned away passengers for wearing leggings or ripped jeans. It’s best to dress neatly when flying, especially in first or business class. If in doubt, check the airline’s website for dress code information.

11. Cancelling Return Flights If You Miss a Leg

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If you miss one part of your journey, the airline can cancel the rest of your ticket. This is called the “no-show” rule. For example, if you skip the first leg of a round-trip, they can cancel your return flight. They don’t have to refund you for the unused part. This rule stops people from using “hidden city” ticketing to get cheaper fares. It’s important to let the airline know if you can’t make part of your trip.

12. Not Providing Meals During Delays

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Airlines don’t have to give you food during long delays. They might offer snacks or vouchers, but it’s not required by law. This is true even for international flights stuck on the tarmac. It’s a good idea to pack some snacks in your carry-on. You should also bring an empty water bottle to fill after security. This way, you’re prepared for unexpected waits.

13. Charging for Seat Selection

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Many airlines now charge extra for choosing your seat, even in economy class. This practice is becoming more common, especially on budget airlines. They can charge for aisle seats, exit rows, or even regular seats. If you don’t pay, you might be assigned a middle seat or split from your travel companions. To avoid this, you can pay the fee or check in as early as possible for better seat choices.

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Victoria Omololu

Victoria Omololu is a fashionista exploring the world on a budget. She co-founded Only Earthlings in 2023 to show her travels in North America, Europe, Africa, and everywhere else. Victoria loves writing about travel tips, itineraries, packing guides, and taking photography from all over the world.

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