WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced Monday that it would seek to require airlines to compensate passengers for extensive flight delays and cancellations.
The proposed rule would require airlines to provide cash payments rather than just refunds for significant travel disruptions that were within the airline’s control. No major U.S. airlines currently guarantee cash compensation for delays or cancellations, according to the Department of Transportation.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you are getting from your American airlines,”[ads1]; President Biden said at the White House on Monday, where he appeared with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, to announce the proposal. The president added that he wanted to “get American air travelers a better deal.”
The airline industry has come under intense scrutiny after a series of problems, including many recent flight cancellations as travelers return to the skies after the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, a winter storm caused an operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines, stranding passengers during the holiday season.
The proposed rule adds to Mr. Buttigieg’s efforts to push the airline industry to improve the customer experience. During his tenure, the transportation department has fined airlines millions of dollars for a variety of violations, including for issues related to customer refunds, although some critics have pushed for him to take a harder line with the industry.
In September, the department rolled out an online dashboard that shows travelers which services they are entitled to if their flights are delayed or cancelled. Mr Buttigieg has credited the creation of the dashboard with pushing airlines to improve their policies towards consumers.
The department has also pressured airlines to guarantee that young children can sit with their parents at no extra cost. In March, it unveiled a similar dashboard showing which airlines had done so.
The proposed rule announced Monday is the latest in a series of consumer-oriented steps announced by the Biden administration. In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Biden highlighted his administration’s efforts to reduce “junk fees,” and he took aim at airlines for charging families to sit together.
The proposal to require airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations is similar to a policy already in place in the EU, where passengers could be entitled to receive up to 600 euros, or about $660, for travel disruption.
“When an airline causes flight cancellations or delays, passengers should not foot the bill,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “This rule would, for the first time in US history, propose to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels and rebooking in cases where the airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay.”
In addition to requiring compensation for passengers, the new proposal would also require airlines to cover expenses such as meals and hotel accommodation incurred due to delays or cancellations within the airlines’ control. Many airlines already do it.
In a statement on Monday, Airlines for America, a trade association representing the nation’s largest airlines, said U.S. airlines had “no incentive to delay or cancel a flight and do everything in their control to ensure that flights depart and arrive on time – but safety is always the top priority.”
The group pointed to factors beyond the airlines’ control, such as weather and flight control violations. It said more than half of the cancellations last year were caused by weather, and it noted that airlines had reduced their schedules in response to Federal Aviation Administration staffing shortages.
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