What you need to know in an age of airline ire

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The recent melee at a Fort Lauderdale airport involving irate passengers whose spirit Airlines flight was cancelled is the latest high-profile incident to hit the airline industry.

Flyers’ rights advocates say airlines are exempt from state consumer protection laws, and — they say — it’s up to you to look after yourself if you run into trouble.

Recently, a Durham woman traveling by air gave out 175 goody bags to everyone aboard her Southwest Airlines flight.

That created a lot of happy passengers — unlike what happened in Fort Lauderdale, when scores found out their Spirit Airlines flight was cancelled due to a labor dispute involving pilots.

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“It shows how the system is deteriorating without new regulations and good competition,” says Paul Hudson of the consumer advocacy group flyersrights.org.

One of the problems, says Hudson, is that passengers can no longer use their tickets on another airline if their flight is cancelled.

“People are being asked to wait several days. That results in everyone being stranded,” he said.

That’s something that worries travelers like Joanna Fanning.

“I was a little apprehensive, thinking our flight was going to get bumped or we were going to get bumped because they overbooked the flight,” she said.

Flyersrights.org estimates 40,000 people are forced off airline flights every year.

“The videos we’ve seen in the last few months are the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “Most of the incidents don’t get on YouTube.”

Hudson says if you are forced off a flight you must leave or face a federal felony charge.

He says you should exercise your rights after the fact, which includes demanding compensation.

“It’s called an involuntary refund. The airlines won’t tell you about that; they want to give you coupons or vouchers, but you have the right to a cash refund,” maintains Hudson.

If you’ve been treated badly, you can file a complaint with the US Department of Transportation — or go to flyersrights.org and see if they can advocate for you.

Here are some helpful resources

Email CBS North Carolina’s Steve Sbraccia if you have a consumer issue.

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