May 10, 2023
The Biden Administration announced on Monday, May 8, that it would seek to require airlines to compensate passengers for lengthy flight delays and cancellations that are within their control, reports The New York Times.
The Administration said it would start the process of establishing a new rule to require airlines to provide cash payments rather than merely refunds for significant travel disruptions. No major U.S. airline currently guarantees cash compensation for delays or cancellations, according to the Transportation Department.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines,” President Biden said at the White House, where he appeared with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, to announce the proposal.
The Administration did not provide specifics about the proposal, such as how much airlines would be required to pay travelers. Biden said his Administration would propose the rule “later this year.” The federal rule-making process can be lengthy, so the proposal is not likely to take effect any time soon.
The airline industry has come under intense scrutiny after a string of woes, including a series of flight disruptions last year as air travel rebounded after plunging because of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, a winter storm led to an operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines, stranding passengers during the holiday travel season.
The new proposal adds to Buttigieg’s efforts to push the airline industry to improve the customer experience. During his tenure, the Transportation Department has imposed millions of dollars in fines on airlines for a number 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 showing travelers what services they are entitled to when a flight is significantly delayed or canceled for reasons within the airline’s control. Buttigieg has credited the creation of the dashboard with pushing airlines to improve their policies.
On Monday, the department announced it had expanded the dashboard—which can now be found at FlightRights.gov—to include information about what compensation, if any, airlines have committed to offering passengers for delays and cancellations.
The department also has pushed airlines to guarantee that young children can sit with an accompanying adult at no extra charge. In March, it unveiled a similar dashboard showing which airlines had done so.
The proposal to require airlines to provide compensation to passengers is the latest in a string of consumer-oriented steps announced by the Biden Administration. In his State of the Union Address in February, the president highlighted his Administration’s efforts to reduce “junk fees,” and he took aim at airlines for charging families to sit together.
The new proposal resembles a policy that is already in place in the European Union, where passengers can receive up to 600 euros, or about $660, for delayed or canceled flights.
In addition to requiring compensation for passengers, the proposal would also mandate that airlines cover expenses like meals and hotel accommodations that are incurred because of delays or cancellations within the airlines’ control. Many airlines already cover such expenses.
“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” Buttigieg said in a statement.
At the White House on Monday, Buttigieg said there had been “unacceptable” rates of delayed and canceled flights last summer, but he said things were looking up.
“Each month so far this year, preliminary data show cancellation rates under 2 percent, even during that busy spring break season,” he said. “But summer travel is going to put enormous pressure on the system, and we need to continue our work.”
Research contact: @nytimes