Your Legal Rights While Traveling
Lawyers.com Editor-in-Chief Larry Bodine addresses About.com writer David Kelly’s questions on how to avoid legal problems when traveling. The About.com article republished below is the first of a two-part series, in which Larry answers legal questions relating to your trips abroad.
Today’s Q&A outlines your basic legal rights. Tomorrow, we’ll post the second article. It delves into what happens if you find yourself in legal trouble in a foreign country.
“Legal Tips for Business Travel”
By David Kelly, About.com Guide
I’ve encountered lots of problems while traveling for business–lost luggage, late flights, missed connections, delayed meetings. But luckily, I haven’t encountered any legal troubles. However, any traveler heading to a different country or traveling on an airline, should be aware that legal issues may not be the same as they are at home. In fact, getting into legal trouble while traveling can have much more serious consequences that it might in a traveler’s home country.
To help understand the implications of legal troubles while traveling for business, About.com Business Travel Guide David A. Kelly interviewed Larry Bodine, Editor in Chief of Lawyers.com, a legal solutions website that provides free resources on legal issues for individuals and small businesses. While you think of them for choosing or evaluating a lawyer or investigating legal topics, the site also has information relevant to business travelers. To get a better understanding of some of the legal issues that business travelers might confront, Mr. Bodine agreed to respond to a number of travel-related legal questions that I had.
What legal rights do people have on an airplane?
For starters, check out our 9 Travel Tips for Road Warriors. A business traveler’s basic rights begin with getting compensation if you are involuntarily bumped from your flight when it is overbooked (but note – there is no compensation if your flight is canceled because of weather). The airline must give you a written statement of your rights. For example, if the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later, or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation is 400% of your one-way fare.
Also, if you’re stuck on the tarmac and the plane is not taking off, federal regulations now prohibit the airline from keeping you stranded out there for more than three hours. Airlines that have tarmac delays can be fined by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
When it comes to lost luggage you can recover a maximum of $3,300 in damages for a domestic flight and about $1,740 for an overseas flight, depending on the exchange rate. But you better have receipts for your expensive suit and computer, and be ready to fight for your damages. Airlines are notoriously reluctant to pay up and you may have to complain to the U.S. Department of Transportation and sue the airline in small claims court.
When you’re on an airplane, the word of the flight crew is law. The days of the flight crew being flying waitresses is over. Since 9/11 they are viewed by the law as first responders and the captain is the onboard security coordinator. If you interfere, assault or intimidate a crew member, it is a federal crime punishable by 20 years in jail. I personally saw the flight crew call the police when a passenger wouldn’t get off his cell phone before takeoff, and he was led away in handcuffs. If a crew member decides he has lost control of the cabin, the pilot will make an emergency landing and the police will arrest the troublemaker. Forbidden items include electronic cigarettes, TV or radio receives, wireless mouses and walkie-talkies. And remember – you can’t smoke in the bathrooms.
Do those rights change once you have arrived in international territory? How does international travel affect your legal rights?
You have no rights whatsoever at an international border. You can be searched, detained and interrogated for any or no reason. Once inside, you are governed by the law of the country you’ve landed in and your rights as an American citizen cease to exist. Your American citizenship does not give you immunity from the law of the country you are in.
If something goes wrong in another country while a business traveler is on a trip, who’s responsible—the business traveler or the traveler’s company?
If your employer is sending you overseas for business, make certain that the company’s health insurance applies overseas if you get sick or injured, and company insurance covers a collision if you rent a car. Before you leave, inquire about your company’s Employers Responsibility insurance program so that you know what is covered and what is not. Often insurance carriers provide travel assistance cards that give the telephone numbers to access these services in urgent situations. Do yourself a favor and check U.S. State Department Travel Alerts to monitor the safety conditions of destination countries, tips for traveling abroad and other helpful information.
To read the original About.com article, click here.