Biden, Buttigieg propose new rule that requires airlines to cover more than just refunds
10 of the biggest airlines in the U.S. now cover meals and rebooking fees when booking with the same airline, while 9 guarantee hotel accommodation
President Joe Biden and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are proposing a new rule that would require airlines to compensate passengers for controllable delays and cancellations ahead of the summer travel season.
The proposed mandate would go beyond a refund — it would also require airlines to cover expenses for meals, hotels, transportation and rebooking.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines, especially after you, the American taxpayer, stepped up in 2020, in the last administration, in the early days of the pandemic, to provide nearly $50 billion of assistance to keep the airline industry and its employees afloat,” said Biden at the White House on Monday.
There is no federal law that compensates a passenger for flight delays. Meanwhile, a cancellation earns the passenger a refund.
“You deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket. You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters,” Biden said.
The proposed rule would be accompanied by a newly launched website, FlightsRights.gov, which features a dashboard that gives travelers all the relevant details about an airline’s compensation policy. It will launch on Monday.
The transportation agency has also expanded its website to display airlines that offer compensation. According to the dashboard, Alaska Airlines is the only carrier to offer frequent flyer miles for controllable cancellations. It also gives customers travel vouchers, as does JetBlue.
But what constitutes a “controllable cancellation and delay” is yet to be defined as the Transportation Department writes the proposed rule.
The federal transportation agency has been working on improving the passenger experience for the last two years, ramping up efforts after Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights last December and left thousands of passengers stranded.
As a result, 10 of the biggest airlines in the U.S. now cover meals and rebooking fees when booking with the same airline, while nine guarantee hotel accommodation, per the dashboard.
“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” said Buttigieg.
The transportation department is also finalizing a proposed rule from last year that would require customers to view the entire cost of the flight at the time of booking, Biden said.
He noted that three airlines — American Airlines, Alaskan Airlines and Frontier Airlines — now allow families to sit together without paying an additional fee after he called out the upcharge during his State of the Union address.
Airlines for America, an airlines association in the U.S., said that airline companies “have no incentive to delay or cancel a flight and do everything in their control to ensure flights depart and arrive on time — but safety is always the top priority,” in a statement.
The weather, which triggers outages and staffing shortages, was the cause behind more than half of flight cancellations in 2022, and a majority in 2023, the statement said.
Whether the proposed rule will account for weather-related schedule changes is unclear.
The association argued that carriers are already making adjustments by hiring more staff and trimming down airline schedules. The industry has added about 118,000 workers since November 2020.
The Biden administration’s proposed rule could take anywhere between months to years to be implemented.