Southwest Airlines Employee Got Punched by a Passenger. Do You Know Your Airline Passenger Rights?

Coronavirus - November 18, 2021
Collage of travelers on jet and in airport

A Southwest Airlines flier punched an employee, and this is not the first unruly traveler of 2021.

When you pack up your briefcase and get ready for work, you would never expect to get there and get punched in the face – right? For many airline employees, however, this is an all-too-real fear. Passenger aggressiveness and unruliness have increased exponentially in the past year.

In fact, recently, a Southwest Airlines passenger punched an employee and was arrested. The employee was hospitalized for the injury and is now stable.

With more and more tension building up among passengers and travel employees, it’s essential to understand your rights when traveling for the upcoming holidays.

What you need to know about your travel rights going into the holiday season.

There’s no doubt that traveling can be stressful. So much can happen, and when you are stuck in an airport or have had a frustrating experience with an airline, it’s essential to take a deep breath and refer to what’s written in stone: legal documents.

Knowing your legal rights when traveling can prevent confusion and tension with employees and help you have a better travel experience. Here’s what you need to know before the holidays:

  1. Flight delays and cancellations: When your flight is delayed or canceled due to mechanical or “manmade” reasons (not weather), check the airline’s contract of carriage for details on what your rights are for getting a hotel, meals, and more. Under certain circumstances like cancellations, airlines may cover hotel costs.
  2. Ticket changes or cancellations: When you realize you’ve made a mistake after purchasing your flight, don’t fret. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has regulations that allow travelers who have booked their flight seven days in advance to edit their itinerary or cancel the flight without a fee.
  3. Lost luggage: Every airline has its own rules about reimbursement for lost baggage. The real question of the matter: How much are they required to give passengers? The answer will be in the airline’s contract. Typically, airlines will provide necessities like toothpaste for passengers to hold them over, but you have the right to ask them to reimburse clothes if you are traveling for an event.
  4. Damaged luggage: If you pick up your suitcase and realize it was damaged during travel, take photos immediately and head to the airline’s help office. If the airline damaged the luggage, you have the right to negotiate a settlement to repair or replace the luggage.
  5. Interfering with a flight attendant or crewmember: Federal laws aim to protect both passengers and crew, and it’s illegal to interfere with the flight crew or physically assault them. Assaulting an airline employee, for example, can lead to a felony conviction. Even actions that don’t lead to a physical attack can be considered a civil wrong. For example, if a passenger does anything that affects or disrupts the employee’s ability to maintain a safe environment can be considered interference, like disobeying rules, blocking a flight attendant from walking down the aisle, or making threats.
  6. Wearing a mask: If you cannot or don’t want to wear a mask, don’t plan on using public transportation during the pandemic. Federal law states that passengers must wear masks in public transportation settings, including airports, planes, trains, buses, etc. If passengers refuse to wear a mask on a plane, for example, they may be fined, and the airlines have the right to kick them off the plane and ban them from traveling with them again.
  7. Vaccination requirements: While more and more airlines require all employees to get vaccinated, it is not yet required of passengers. Unvaccinated travelers are required to continue wearing a mask in public transportation. Additionally, in some cities, vaccinations are required to enter specific public indoor spaces like restaurants, bars, gyms, etc. Some countries are only allowing vaccinated travelers into their country from the U.S. For further clarification, see a complete list of U.S. cities and other countries with vaccination requirements.

Whether you’re gearing up to travel home for the holidays or are a public transportation employee, it’s imperative you know the rules and your rights before stepping on the plane (or bus, train, etc.). Knowing what to expect before you buy your ticket or step foot in a public transportation area can prevent confusion and frustration during your travel experience.

Consult with a provider lawyer to understand your travel rights before heading home for the holidays.

Especially in these times, when rules are changing, and more is required to go anywhere, traveling does not bring out the best in anyone. Understanding what is required of you to travel is imperative because retaliating and refusing to follow guidelines can result in a damaging legal nightmare.

To understand your travel rights, consult with a provider lawyer before traveling this holiday season.

LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for legal advice or assistance. If you are a LegalShield member, you should contact your Provider Law Firm.