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When a recent US Airways flight I was on from Phoenix to New York ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina, overnight because of severe storms, I was surprised I wasn't offered any sort of meal or hotel-room vouchers-until I checked the ticket rules on the carrier's website and realized it was under no such obligation. "These contracts of carriage are written by each airline for their own protection," says Bay Area-based attorney Alexander Anolik, who has authored eight books on travel law. Some of the airline rules are, in Anolik's words, "absolutely onerous"; others may simply raise your eyebrows. Either way, it pays to read the fine print. But rules or no rules, you should complain to a higher authority if you feel you have been mistreated.
"If the Department of Transportation gets enough consumer complaints about something in a contract of carriage," Anolik says, "it will tell the airline to get it out of the contract."