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Air Travel Rules

Traveling by plane is more complex than buying a ticket, checking in, and taking your seat. A host of legal systems works to protect your ability to board an airplane and help ensure your luggage gets to your destination on time.

But, these systems don't always work as planned. When this happens, passenger protections are in place to help you resolve disputes with the air carrier.

FindLaw's Air Travel Rules section gives information about air travel rules and regulations. Use the links at the end of this article to learn more about:

  • Security procedures
  • Frequently asked questions on tarmac delays, canceled flights, flight delays, airfare, and more
  • Laws about luggage and carry-on items
  • Travel scams
  • Using a travel agent or travel agency
  • The benefits of travel insurance

Air Travel Security

Airports have always conducted security screenings to ensure safe travel. But, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, security at airports has increased substantially. This includes new screening procedures and methods.

While these security measures aim to increase safety and peace of mind, they also create longer security lines. It's best to arrive early at the airport — at least 1.5 hours early for domestic flights and at least three hours early for international flights.

There are specific rules about what you can and can't bring in your carry-on and checked baggage. Guns, firearms, self-defense and martial arts items, and most tools can't go onto a flight.

You can transport most of these items by packing them in your checked baggage. Contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) if you have questions about items you wish to check, especially firearms.

You are not allowed to check or carry on certain items. These prohibited items include explosive, flammable, disabling, and dangerous materials and chemicals.

There are specific security rules for liquids and gels. The shorthand rule for liquids and gels is 3-1-1:

  • Three: Each container can contain up to 3.4 ounces of liquid or gel
  • One: You must fit all containers into one clear, plastic quart-sized bag
  • One: Each passenger is only allowed one such bag

Medications, baby food, formula, and breast milk are exceptions to the 3-1-1 rule. You must declare these items to TSA agents for inspection.

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry Programs

TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are trusted traveler programs but have some key differences.

  • TSA PreCheck speeds up the security screening process at domestic airports. TSA PreCheck passengers may keep their shoes, belts, and light jackets on. They can leave laptops and compliant liquids in their carry-on bags.
  • Global Entry is for international travelers. When arriving in the United States, it speeds processing through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administers TSA PreCheck. You can apply on the TSA website but must visit an enrollment center to take a photo and fingerprint and submit payment.

The fee for TSA PreCheck is $75 to $85.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) administers the Global Entry program. You can start your application online but must also visit an enrollment center. Global Entry applicants must complete an in-person interview and pass a thorough background check. Processing times for applications are about four months.

The fee for Global Entry is $100 and includes TSA PreCheck.

Both program memberships are valid for five years.

Frequent Flyer Programs

If you travel by plane frequently (particularly with the same airline), it helps to enroll in the airline's frequent flyer program. Benefits of these programs vary depending on the airline. Generally, you earn points for each flight and can redeem points for various perks. These perks can include:

  • Free airline tickets
  • Companion vouchers
  • Seat upgrades
  • Food and beverage perks

These programs are a contract between you and the airline, subject to the same rules as any contract. But, air service providers decide the program's terms, including stating that the program's rules can change at any time with limited or no notice.

Some airlines partner with credit card issuers for frequent flyer programs. These partnerships allow cardholders to earn miles or points for their card spending. While these programs may help you earn rewards faster, research the credit card's annual fee and interest rate before signing up.

Federal Regulatory Agencies

Several federal agencies regulate air transportation and the airline industry:

These agencies ensure passenger air transportation's safety, security, and efficiency.

Questions About Your Passenger Rights? Consult an Attorney

Generally, air transportation doesn't need the help of an attorney. But, some consumer protection laws protect the rights of airline passengers. If you feel an airline company has violated your consumer rights, talk to a consumer protections attorney in your area.

A local attorney can review your situation (whether from overbooking, lost baggage, airfare transparency, or another issue). They can help determine if you have a claim. You'll want an attorney if you decide to go up against an airline and its legal resources.

Learn About Airline Rules

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

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Rights to Travel: Consumer Protections and Rules

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