On 8 May, US President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced plans to launch a new rulemaking that is aimed at requiring airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for amenities such as meals, hotels, and rebooking when airlines are responsible for stranding passengers.
“If your airline is very delayed or cancelled, and the airline could’ve prevented that, 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. (…) Airline passengers in Canada, for example, and the European Union and other places already get these compensations”, Biden said.
This rule would, for the first time in US history, propose to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels, and rebooking in cases where the airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay.Pete Buttigieg, US Transportation Secretary
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has been pushing for two years to improve passenger experience, the ten largest American airlines now guaranteeing meals and free rebooking on the same airline while nine also guarantee hotel accommodations. Only one airline offers frequent flyer miles, while two guarantee travel credits or vouchers, but no airline guarantees cash compensation when an airline issue causes the significant delay or cancellation. The Department’s rulemaking proposes to ensure that passengers experiencing controllable delays and cancellations are better protected from financial losses than is currently the case.
The planned rulemaking is aimed at addressing compensation for passengers when there is a controllable airline cancellation or significant delay, the DOT planning to also better define “controllable cancellation and delay”, a meal or meal voucher, overnight accommodations, ground transportation to and from the hotel and rebooking for controllable delays or cancellations, as well as timely customer service during and after periods of widespread flight irregularities.
In the meantime, the DOT has compiled a dashboard showing what compensation, if any, airlines currently guarantee. The following categories were added to Commitments for Controllable Cancellations and Controllable Delays:
- Cash compensation when cancellation or delay results in passenger waiting 3 hours or more from the scheduled departure time;
- Travel credit/voucher when cancellation or delay results in passenger waiting for 3 hours or more for scheduled departure time; and
- Frequent flyer miles when cancellation or delay results in passenger waiting for 3 hours or more for a flight from the scheduled departure time.
While President Biden pointed to a study that found flight delays went down after the EU adopted its passenger compensation rights regulation, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) highlighted the compensations had no effect on the number of delays and cancellations. A thorough examination of the European Union’s passenger rights regulation, EU261, released in 2020 by the European Commission (Study on the Current Level of Passenger Protection in the EU, Final Report), found that cancellations overall nearly doubled from 67,000 in 2011 to 131,700 in 2018. The same outcome occurred with flight delays, which rose from 60,762 to 109,396. While the share of airline attributable delays as a percentage of total delays shrank, the report attributed this to an increase in delays classed as extraordinary circumstances, such as air traffic control delays, IATA pointed out.