US proposes new rules for flight cancellations and delays
The Biden administration is working on new rules that would require airlines to compensate passengers and cover their meals and hotel rooms if they are stranded for reasons within the airline’s control.
The White House said President Joe Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg would announce the start of the rulemaking process Monday.
The rulemaking promise follows a push by the Democratic government to require airlines to improve customer service, and it comes just weeks before the start of the peak summer travel season.
The aim of the rules would be, for the first time, to oblige airlines to pay compensation beyond a ticket refund and to cover the costs incurred by consumers, including rebooking on another flight, if the airline causes a cancellation or significant delay.
“If an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers shouldn’t foot the bill,” Buttigieg said in a statement.
Airline-caused cancellations include flights scrubbed due to mechanical problems with the plane or lack of crew.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest airlines, said in a statement airlines have no incentive to delay or cancel flights. The trade group said more than half of the cancellations in 2022 and 2023 were caused by “extreme weather” or air traffic control outages.
“Airlines have taken responsibility for challenges under their control and continue to work diligently to improve operational security,” including hiring more staff and reducing their schedules, the group said.
After the pandemic hit, airlines paid tens of thousands of workers to lay off early or retire, but they’ve hired about 118,000 workers since November 2020 and now have 5% more employees than before the pandemic, according to figures from the Department of Transportation.
It’s not certain if or when the Department of Transportation will release final rules on new compensation for travelers. The rulemaking process can take months or years.
Currently, if an airline cancels a flight for any reason, consumers can request a refund of the unused portion of their ticket and certain extras they may have paid to the airline, such as: B. Baggage check-in or seat assignment fees. Airlines often try to convince consumers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.
After widespread flight disruptions last summer, the Department of Transportation released an online dashboard designed to pressure airlines to improve customer service. On the website, consumers can consult each airline’s policy on refunds and compensation for flight cancellations or delays.
Each of the top 10 US airlines quickly pledged to provide cash or meal vouchers if a cancellation forces passengers to wait at least three hours for another flight. Nine of the 10 – all but Frontier Airlines – also pledged to pay for accommodation for passengers stranded overnight.
Questions resurfaced about consumer reimbursement for expenses after Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights during a meltdown in December. The Departments of Transportation and Justice are investigating whether Southwest has scheduled more flights than it can realistically handle.
The Transport Department says it is working with airlines to reduce cancellations and delays this summer when air travel could surpass pre-coronavirus pandemic records.
A report by the Congressional Government Accountability Office last month blamed airlines for a spike in cancellations as air travel began to recover in 2021 and early 2022. The Federal Aviation Administration has also caused disruptions due to technology outages and staffing shortages. The FAA recently encouraged airlines to reduce flights to and from major New York airports this summer because it doesn’t have enough air traffic controllers at a key facility.
David King, The Associated Press