Technology failures, system outages and staff shortages have caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations in recent months, wreaking havoc on travelers across the country and drawing attention to transportation officials. According to the US Department of Transportation, about 20 percent of flights were delayed last year. While the weather is often to blame, the airlines are also often to blame.
President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a proposed new rule Monday to compensate passengers affected by carrier-caused delays. Under the proposal, airlines would be required to cover certain costs for passengers, as well as pay them for the inconvenience of flight delays and cancellations.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you are receiving from your American airlines,” Mr. Biden said during the announcement at the White House. “Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”
What would the change mean for travelers?
Under the new rule, carriers will have to provide passengers with assistance and monetary compensation when airlines are at fault for a cancellation or delay of three hours or more. Apart from the free rebooking or refund of the ticket price, the airlines will have to cover other expenses incurred by the passengers, such as hotels, food and ground transportation. In addition, inconvenient fliers will be entitled to payment in the form of cash, miles or travel vouchers.
“When an airline causes a flight to be canceled or delayed, passengers should not foot the bill,” Mr. Buttigieg said in a statement. The rule would also define “controllable cancellation and delay,” making it harder for airlines to deflect liability.
The Department of Transportation is still determining how many passengers will be able to expect to be paid for lost time or how claims will be processed, a spokesman said in an email.
How is this different from what airlines already offer?
Since last year, most US airlines have committed to some type of compensation for passengers affected by controlled cancellations and significant delays. All 10 major carriers rebook passengers on the same airline at no extra cost, provide meals or meal vouchers when passengers are left waiting three hours or more, and — with the exception of Frontier Airlines — provide free ground transportation and lodging in the event of cancellations for nights away from home.
However, only two carriers offer customers any compensation for the inconvenience.
Alaska Airlines provides discounts on future flights for delays of more than three hours if caused by the carrier. According to the airline’s online policy, affected passengers will receive instructions from Alaska airport staff and an email or letter detailing the amount of the discount.
JetBlue Airways automatically notifies passengers via email if their flight qualifies for compensation and offers travel credit on a sliding scale of up to $250, depending on the length of the delay and whether the plane has already boarded.
Currently, no major U.S. airlines provide cash compensation for disrupted flights.
Is there a precedent for this type of rule?
In the European Union, where similar regulation has been in place since 2004, flight cancellations or long delays can entitle passengers to either a refund or an alternative flight, unless they are caused by “extraordinary circumstances” such as bad weather or political unrest. The rule covers all passengers, regardless of nationality, and routes originating in the European Union – even on US carriers. For flights to EU countries, the rule only applies to EU carriers.
If flights are delayed or canceled less than 14 days before scheduled departure, passengers may be entitled to up to €600, or about $660. Passengers can also receive compensation if denied boarding. Claims can be made to airlines directly or through an online service such as Flightright, providing details of the booking and the reason for the delay or cancellation.
If a flight is delayed overnight, passengers in the European Union may also be entitled to reimbursement for expenses such as food, ground transportation and accommodation.
In presenting his proposal, Mr Biden pointed to research showing that EU policy has had a positive impact on air traffic there. A recent study in the journal Transport Policy concluded that European consumer rights regulations have improved service quality by reducing departure delays and increasing airlines’ on-time performance.
When will the policy go into effect?
No one knows for sure, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Mr. Biden said he hoped the Department of Transportation would “act as quickly as possible to implement this new rule,” but gave no timeline.
The agency is currently working on the official document to announce and explain the proposed new rule. Once it is issued, there will be at least one public comment period, which may last several months, during which there may be public hearings, either in person or online. Other agencies may also become involved at later stages of the review and analysis process. The rule may still evolve or, in rare cases, even be removed.
For now, passengers can follow airline compensation policies at FlightRights.gov.
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