President Joe Biden announced on Monday that his administration is proposing new regulations that would require airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for air travelers who are stranded due to reasons within the airline’s control. This would be in addition to ticket refunds and is aimed at giving consumers in the United States protections similar to those in the European Union.
During the announcement, Biden stated, “You deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket refunded – you deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters, the impact on your life matters.” The proposed rules will focus on cancellations and long delays caused by mechanical issues with the plane or lack of a crew.
The Transportation Department will be responsible for writing the new regulations, and while they did not provide a precise date for when they expect to finish, they indicated that they are working to publish a notice to get the process started as quickly as possible.
The new regulations come just in time for the peak summer travel season, which is expected to break pre-coronavirus pandemic records. Although the rate of canceled flights has decreased compared to last year, delays are slightly more common and longer on average, according to data from tracking service FlightAware.
Airlines for America, which represents the biggest carriers, has released a statement claiming that airlines have no incentive to delay or cancel flights. They say that more than half of cancellations in 2022 and 2023 have been caused by “extreme weather” or air traffic control outages.
After the pandemic hit, airlines received $54 billion in federal aid, which included a prohibition on layoffs. However, this did not prevent airlines from paying tens of thousands of workers to quit or retire early. Since November 2020, airlines have added about 118,000 workers and now have 5% more employees than before the pandemic, according to Transportation Department figures.
Currently, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, consumers can demand a refund of the unused part of their ticket and certain extras that they might have paid to the airline, such as fees for checking a bag or getting a seat assignment. Airlines often try to persuade consumers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.
The Transportation Department has expanded an online dashboard to let consumers compare airline policies on refunds and compensation. The site will now indicate when airlines offer cash, travel vouchers, or frequent-flyer miles as compensation for flight disruptions under their control.
None of the major U.S. airlines offer cash for controllable cancellations or long delays, only Alaska Airlines offers frequent-flyer miles, and only Alaska and JetBlue provide travel credits, according to the dashboard.
After widespread flight disruptions last summer, the Transportation Department posted the dashboard, which pushed the 10 largest U.S. airlines to promise to provide cash or vouchers for meals when a carrier-caused cancellation forces passengers to wait at least three hours for another flight. Nine of the 10 airlines, all except for Frontier Airlines, also promise to pay for accommodations for passengers stranded overnight.
Questions were raised again about reimbursing consumers for out-of-pocket costs after Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights during a December meltdown in service. The Transportation and Justice departments are investigating whether Southwest scheduled more flights than it realistically could handle.
A report last month from the congressional Government Accountability Office blamed airlines for a surge in cancellations as air travel began to recover in 2021 and early 2022. The Federal Aviation Administration has also created disruptions due to technology outages and staffing shortages. The FAA recently encouraged airlines to reduce flights to and from major New