The Department of Transportation, headed by Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is proposing a rule to require better compensation to travelers and more transparency about it when flights are canceled or delayed due to issues within an airline’s control.
“Whether you are up before dawn, coffee in hand, ready to go to a conference, or up past bedtime, wrangling toddlers, just like Chasten and I were the other night, you count on that airline to provide the service that you paid for,” Buttigieg said at a Monday press conference, referring to his husband and their twin children.
Weather remains the primary cause of cancellations and delays, but these problems can also be caused by staffing shortages or other matters than an airline can do something about, he said. Last summer, there were unacceptable rates of cancellations and delays even on blue-sky days, he noted. These are down now, but there is still a need to compensate travelers for the expenses they incur, Buttigieg said.
The 10 largest airlines in the U.S. guarantee compensation for meals and free rebooking on the same airline if the delay or cancellation is their fault, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations. A year ago, almost no major airline guaranteed anything beyond a refund of the ticket price, said President Joe Biden, who spoke after Buttigieg.
“We challenged them to do better, and in fact, they did,” Biden said. There’s a real benefit to customers in that; for instance, rebooking fees can run up to $200 per ticket, he said.
The airlines have made these improvements voluntarily when pushed by the federal government, but the Biden administration will propose a rule to make it mandatory for all U.S. airlines to compensate passengers for meals, hotels, transportation, and rebooking fees incurred when a delay or cancellation is the airline’s fault. The compensation can be cash, miles, or travel vouchers. “That’s all on top of refunding the cost of your ticket,” Biden said.
Such regulations are already in place in areas including Canada and the European Union, and there are working, the president said. One study showed that in the E.U., the number of flight delays went down as a result.
“I appreciate Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership on this issue, and I hope and I expect the Department of Transportation to move as quickly as they can to get this new rule in place,” Biden said.
Biden and Buttigieg also announced an expansion of FlightsRight.gov, a website that outlines airlines’ consumer protection policies. The site will now include information about what type of compensation the airlines offer for cancellations and delays — whether it’s cash, travel credits/vouchers, or frequent flyer miles.
The Biden administration has already proposed a rule that would require airlines and travel search websites to disclose up front — the first time an airfare is displayed — any fees charged to sit with one’s child, for changing or canceling a flight, and for checked or carry-on baggage. Biden further called on Congress to pass the Junk Fee Prevention Act, which would write this policy into law.
Buttigieg further noted other actions the administration has taken to improve airline service, such as hiring more air traffic controllers and allowing, in some areas, the use of larger planes with less frequent flights.
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