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Q: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security ( Answered,   4 Comments )
Subject: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: bigal007-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 03 Aug 2002 16:21 PDT
Expires: 02 Sep 2002 16:21 PDT
Question ID: 50285
My family arrived yesterday for a one-way flight with America West
from BWI to Santa Barbara via Phoenix - approximately 75 minutes
before scheduled departure time. After standing in line for check-in,
we were first attended to by a check-in agent approximately 60 minutes
before departure. The airline's computer randomly selected our party
for a screening of our checked baggage. About 40 minutes passed before
a single-handed security agent had carried out an extremely thorough
manual search of our seven bags. After the bags were cleared, we
proceeded directly to the regular gate security/X-ray arriving at the
gate 5 minutes before departure. We were denied access to the flight.
The airline denied any responsibility for the length of time taken for
security.We were told our luggage was on board and would go without
us.  Is this a legal practice under Federal Law in these
circumstances? We were delayed 4.5 hours. Do we have a claim for
compensation and if so with whom?
Subject: Re: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
Answered By: historybuff-ga on 03 Aug 2002 17:49 PDT
hello biga1007,

Having spent four years as a frequent business traveler on various
airlines ( I could recognize most of the airports shown in movies),  I
can certainly understand your frustration.  Since last September's
terrorist attacks, passenger rights have often taken a back seat to
security concerns.   The flip side of that has been the airlines using
the event as an excuse for poor customer service.

Independent Traveler says, ".. Rotten airline "customer service"
disguised as patriotism.  There are many people from all parts of the
political spectrum who suspect that our new national conditions are
going to translate into personal abuses..."

Normally, if the delay had been caused by airport security people
rather than airline, you would have little recourse. The airline and
the security checkpoint  each follow their own sets of procedures. 
Unless the airline is running it's own security checkpoint, which I
believe a few of them do in certain locations, you are stuck between
two organizations neither of which will take responsibility for your
problem.  The airline has a rule about arrival times; if you fail to
arrive at the boarding gate within the specified  time they have a
right to give your seat to another passenger.   Five minutes before
departure is certainly under all the airline boarding time
requirements.  Furthermore, your luggage continuing on without you is
common practice.  Airlines will not delay a flight to retrieve one
passenger's ( or family's) luggage.

"Check-In Times
Even if you have already checked in for your flight, an airline can
cancel your reservation if you are not at the departure gate on time.
Even if you have an advance boarding pass, or have an advance seat
assignment, your seat may be given to another passenger. "

You can see the complete page here:

I am not certain from you question whether the security search was
performed by airline personnel or airport security personnel.  This
would be a critical piece of information since in one scenario the
airline had you and your luggage in their control from 60 min before
your scheduled departure time, giving you the ability to place the
blame squarely with them.  In the other, you have two
separate organizations involved, making it much harder to pin blame,
or get compensation from the airline.

Here is an explanation of Rule 240 on passenger rights:

"A force major event is any event beyond the airline's control. These
include weather, acts of God, civil commotion, war, hostilities,
government regulations, shortage of labor or fuel, or any other
situation not foreseen by the airline as well as strikes or any other
labor-related disputes. Almost any situation falls into this category,
and it is not quite as obligating as a schedule irregularity mishap.

During a force major event, the airline's only obligation is to give
you a full refund. Most likely, the airline will do everything in its
power to get you on another flight, whether it is on one of its own
planes or another, but they are not obligated to do so."

As you can see, government regulations in this case can cover the
security check delays, not giving you much to stand on going against
the airline.   Here is the full explanation of rule 240:

Since you are asking about the laws and regulations, I am going on the
assumption that you have exhausted all the avenues for

compensation directly from America West.    Here is where to go next
to file a complaint:

"Registering A Complaint
Have a Complaint?
If you can't resolve your problem or question at the airport and want
to file a complaint, call or write the airline's consumer office at

its corporate headquarters.

If you would like to file a complaint online quickly, and have it
directed to the appropriate airline, hotel, cruise line, etc., go to and fill out a complaint form there. 

The DOT has a Web site set up specifically to deal with consumer
complaints at You can get useful

information on filing a complaint there; and if your complaint is in
reference to airline-ticket pricing or overbooking issues, you may

download forms and submit your complaint directly.

If you want to put your complaint about an airline on record with DOT,
you can call the Federal Aviation Administration at (202)

366-2220 or toll-free at 1-800-322-7873 to record your complaint. Or

Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
Room 4107, C-75
Washington, DC 20590

The DOT web site ( has links to several other
sites, and phone numbers of contacts."

Please let me know if this is sufficient, or if you would like further
investigation.  Please bear in mind that I am not a legal expert.



Clarification of Answer by historybuff-ga on 03 Aug 2002 17:56 PDT

Please excuse the strange spacing towards the end of my answer.  I
could blame it on my computer...but it was clearly operator error.

Search strategy:

"airline passengers" rights 2002
"airport security" "passenger rights" 2002 


Clarification of Answer by historybuff-ga on 03 Aug 2002 18:19 PDT

This may be your most direct complaint hotline if the airport security
people caused the delay.  I checked the number, and it's valid.

"As part of its program to overhaul and take over airport security,
and in response to public confusion and complaints, the Transportation
Security Administration has established a Consumer Hot Line to address
problems and issues with the airport security screening process."

The toll free number: 866-289-9673
Hours: 8am - 5 pm Eastern M-F; 10am - 6 pm weekends. 

Subject: Re: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
From: bobthedispatcher-ga on 03 Aug 2002 18:33 PDT
Incidentaly BWI Airport (Baltimore, MD) is one of the "test " areas
where they try out new security proceedures - meaning that they rarely
have time to figure out what they are doing before the newest changes
are implemented (or their version is that they use the latest and
greatest systems)
Probably a mix of both!

BTW The direct line to the Airport Terminal there is 410-859-7111 and
press"1" for the operator.
Subject: Re: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
From: bigal007-ga on 12 Aug 2002 15:34 PDT
Dear Historybuff,

I'm sorry it took me so long to acknowledge your excellent response.

I have had no luck with The Transportation Security Administration so
far. I have left 2 messages but they have not called back.

I thought I would send you a copy of a letter to America West which I
sent by fax and by mail today. You will see that I established that
AW's check-in security staff are their own employees and that I
incorporated your suggestion that the blame lies with them.

Jennifer Tonge 
Director Of Customer Relations
America West Airlines
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ

August 12, 2002					By Fax (480 693 2300) and Mail

Dear Ms. Tonge,

Security Check Delay at BWI  - Flight 84 to Phoenix on Aug 2, 2002

I am writing to report an incident occurring in an attempt to board
the above flight. I had been joined by my family in Pennsylvania to
celebrate the end of a long concert tour of the United States. (I am a
performing musician). We had reservations from BWI to Phoenix on the
above flight connecting to Santa Barbara on Flight 6156.

We arrived for check-in in good time (over 80 minutes before departure
time) and would have been given boarding passes well before 60 minutes
of departure time if it hadn’t been for your computer “randomly”
selecting our entire party of four for a manual search of our bags.
The security agent in the check-in area performed an extremely
thorough search of every one of our seven bags, but took over 40
minutes to do so. It is surprising he had no help to do this.

By the time we had rushed through the regular gate area security/x-ray
it was a little under 10 minutes to departure time and perhaps 5
minutes before departure time when we presented ourselves at the gate.
We noticed with relief that the door to the aircraft had not yet been
closed. However, the gate agent (Katie) took one look at the red
stickers on our boarding passes, noticed that there was no security
agent in the vicinity and denied us access to the flight. “I’m not
delaying the flight”, she said, looking at nobody. We were told our
checked bags were on board and would be going without us – a
questionable practice in my view. The gate agents (Katie and Marion)
made us feel like naughty children and sat us down in the empty
boarding area until all their paperwork was done, which took about 30
minutes.  It seemed they were more concerned about who was going to
work their shift tomorrow than rebooking us.

A very pleasant (new) agent then arrived at the gate and took care of
re-booking us into Santa Barbara via Columbus and Phoenix. We arrived
in Santa Barbara about 4 hours 30 minutes later than originally
planned. To add insult to injury, our bags had not arrived on the
earlier flight(s) and were not delivered from the flight on which we
eventually flew from Phoenix either. We reported the missing bags. We
called your baggage people at Santa Barbara airport around 9am the
next morning and were told there was no news. Surprising, as they had
left BWI at 7.30am on Flight 522 to Phoenix. So the bags had not made
our original flight. The bags were delivered late that morning at our
home address (without any phone call to say they had been found).

A lady from your customer service department told me on the telephone
last week that you do not offer any compensation for security delays.
However, I understand that the security personnel are your employees.
In my view therefore, this places the blame for this unprecedented
delay firmly in your hands.  I would ask that you consider
compensating us for this incident.

On a positive note, I use your services out of Santa Barbara
frequently for both business and pleasure trips and have never had
cause to complain.  The staff in Santa Barbara is always courteous and
efficient.  They were very shocked to hear what had happened.

I hope you will respond positively to this request.

Yours sincerely,

Historybuff - Thank you once again for your help. When AW responds, I
will let you know.

Subject: Re: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
From: bigal007-ga on 27 Aug 2002 12:26 PDT

I heard from America West by phone. Their best offer for compensation
was $100 in travel vouchers for each of the 4 of us. Not great - but
better than nothing I suppose.

The Transportation Administration were unhelpful  and took a week to
call back. They said we should be checked in 2 hours before departure.
They said there would be no getting back to me but they would report
the incident.

Thanks again for your help - bye
Subject: Re: Traveler's Rights with Airlines and Airport Security
From: adacore-ga on 28 Oct 2002 10:03 PST
 Furthermore, your luggage continuing on without you is
common practice.  Airlines will not delay a flight to retrieve one
passenger's ( or family's) luggage.
End Quote

I thought that an airline had to remove all luggage belonging to
passengers not on the plane by law, to prevent terrorists checking in
a bomb in a suitcase, then not going on the flight.

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