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Biden administration presses airlines to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations

May 08, 2023
4 min read
Cancelled Flights Cause Concern Ahead Of July 4 Weekend Travel
Biden administration presses airlines to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations
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  • President Biden to announce new rules on compensation for delays and cancellations.
  • Passengers would get cash and refunds for some controllable events.
  • Measures would be similar to EU261 rules that give passengers payouts for long delays and cancellations.

The Biden administration is proposing a set of rules that would require airlines to compensate passengers for any drastic flight delays or cancellations.

As a part of this push, the U.S. Department of Transportation will mandate that airlines cover expenses for meals, hotels and rebookings whenever passengers are facing significant delays or cancellations caused by an airline. It would require cash compensation in addition to potential refunds.

"Many [travelers] missed family gatherings; spent Christmas at an airport; waited countless hours in line or on the phone because there weren't enough personnel — that's unacceptable," President Joe Biden said at Monday afternoon press conference. "And while flight delays and cancellations have come down since then, there's still a problem."

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The DOT also rolled out the website — an update to the previous airline consumer service dashboard that notes which airlines already offer cash compensation, travel credits, vouchers or frequent flyer miles for delays and cancellations.

None of the major U.S. airlines currently offer cash compensation for cancellations, according to the dashboard. Only one airline gives frequent flyer miles and two guarantee travel credits or vouchers to passengers who experience significant delays or cancellations caused by something within the airline's control, according to the DOT.

Additionally, the new rule would define what constitutes a "controllable cancellation or delay."

“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

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

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The proposal comes as the Biden administration has tried to hold the airline industry accountable for various consumer protection issues. These issues include free family seating and fee disclosures for ancillary costs, along with flight changes and cancellations.

Airlines have also faced scrutiny from Washington for a stumbling recovery from the pandemic filled with flight cancellations and delays. Last summer, thousands of flights were delayed or canceled daily due to air traffic control and pilot staffing issues.

In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines also received more than $50 billion in government aid to stave off any layoffs and to equip them to handle the return of passenger travel. However, the industry's lack of preparation for growing customer demand has frustrated lawmakers.

"The American taxpayer stepped up in 2020 in the last administration in the early days of the pandemic to provide nearly $50 billion in assistance to keep the airline industry and its employees afloat," Biden said at the conference. "That's why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal."

An April Government Accountability Office report found that cancellations and delays caused by airlines in the years coming out of COVID-19 significantly outpaced pre-pandemic levels. These issues became more common as travel demand increased. As a result of the delays and cancellations, the complaints the DOT received from passengers regarding flight issues also rose significantly, according to the GAO report.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the major U.S. airlines, said in a statement that carriers have taken responsibility for the issues that are within their control and have worked toward strengthening their operational reliability.

"U.S. airlines have no incentive to delay or cancel a flight and do everything in their control to ensure flights depart and arrive on time," A4A said.

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