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Airline passenger rights get a big push today as Department of Transportation dashboard debuts

Sept. 01, 2022
4 min read
Airline passenger rights get a big push today as Department of Transportation dashboard debuts
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The Biden administration is declaring a small victory Thursday in getting airlines to treat customers better, especially when things go wrong.

The news surrounds a new dashboard on the Department of Transportation's website that the government is debuting Sept. 1. It details the types of accommodations that airlines provide to customers when there are delays or cancellations that are within a carrier's control.

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The DOT's new customer service dashboard. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

After the DOT reached out in a letter to the nation's largest airlines two weeks ago, most airlines formally clarified their policies in their customer service plans about providing these accommodations ahead of the dashboard's launch.

While many airlines had these policies in some capacity, they're now explicit parts of the customer service plan — a change for the better, said Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg.

"To the credit of the airlines in this process, they have stepped up," Trottenberg told TPG in an interview ahead of the dashboard's launch.

The new dashboard details airlines' commitments to rebooking passengers and providing meal cash or vouchers, overnight hotel accommodations and ground transportation to hotels.

In a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official said that prior to the dashboard's creation being announced, just one airline would guarantee rebooking at no cost. Now, nine out of 10 airlines will.

The major outlier on the dashboard is Allegiant Air, which does not make a single assurance to any of its distressed passengers. A DOT spokesperson said that the department has been in touch with all airlines throughout the process, including Allegiant.

Some airlines, including Delta Air Lines, contend that they were already providing these types of accommodations to passengers.

“Second only to safety, Delta’s priority is to do right by our customers when delays or cancellations happen, regardless of the cause," a Delta spokesperson said in a statement. "The categories DOT’s dashboard lays out are aligned with our existing Customer Commitment and we’ve updated some of our language to be explicitly clear about the services and amenities we provide customers when they are inconvenienced. Our focus remains on providing industry leading operational reliability and customer service across our operation."

Delta CEO Ed Bastian also sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the customer service steps the airline had taken.

Deputy Secretary of Transportation Polly Trottenberg. AL DRAGO/BLOOMBERG/GETTY IMAGES

But the point of the dashboard is enforcement, Trottenberg said.

"Now that it's in the customer service plans, it's not something in discretion," she said. "It's something we can enforce. And I think this dashboard is really going to kind of raise the state of the art for consumers."

More: Airlines pushed again by DOT to be better on delays and cancellations

The dashboard only provides information about accommodations airlines provide when the delay is within their control. Many of the delays have been outside airline control — often due to weather or air traffic control issues. Airlines generally provide little to nothing if a flight is delayed or canceled due to weather or ATC.

The DOT hopes the new dashboard will become a resource for consumers to consider when they choose an airline.

But in a letter sent to the top four congressional leaders Wednesday, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general criticized the DOT for failing to act on consumer complaints.

"The mistreatment of airline consumers is a bi-partisan issue—one that requires immediate action from federal lawmakers," the letter, signed by 36 state attorneys general plus the Washington, D.C., and Guam attorneys general, said.

In response to the letter, a second senior administration official said that the DOT regularly engages with AGs, and mentioned that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, one of the letter's signatories, chairs the DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.

Airlines have had a tough summer operationally, with 22.9% of U.S. carrier flights delayed between June 1 and Aug. 30, though data from the past few weeks appears to show that airlines have had a stronger end to the busy travel season. That came after airlines removed some flights proactively, sometimes at DOT's urging, to right-size the schedule to the staff they had available.

DOT has taken an active rule on the consumer protection front in recent months. In addition to the dashboard, it recently proposed a rule enhancing airline refunds, and urged airlines to seat families together.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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