The United States proposes new rules for cancellations and delays by airlines

The push comes just weeks before the peak summer travel season.

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is working on new regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers and cover their meals and hotel rooms if they are grounded for reasons under the airline’s control.

President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the start of the regulatory process on Monday.

The regulatory effort continues a push by the Democratic administration to require airlines to improve customer service, and comes just weeks before the start of the peak summer travel season.

The purpose of the rules would, for the first time, be to require airlines to pay compensation on top of a ticket refund and to cover expenses incurred by consumers, including rebooking on another flight, if the airline causes a cancellation or a significant delay.

“When an airline cancels or delays a flight, passengers don’t have to foot the bill,” Buttigieg said in a statement.

Cancellations caused by airlines include flights canceled due to mechanical problems with the aircraft or lack of crew.

Airlines for America, which represents the largest carriers, said in a statement that airlines have no incentive to delay or cancel flights. The trade group said more than half of the cancellations in 2022 and 2023 were caused by “extreme weather” or air traffic control disruptions.

“Carriers have taken ownership of the challenges under their control and continue to work diligently to improve operational reliability,” including hiring more workers and reducing their hours, the group said.

Since the pandemic, airlines have paid tens of thousands of workers to quit or retire early, but have added about 118,000 workers since November 2020 and now have 5% more employees than before the pandemic, according to data. of the Department of Transportation.

There’s no certainty if or when the Department of Transportation could issue final rules on new traveler compensation. The decision-making process can take months or years. Biden said the proposal would come later in 2023.

Currently, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, consumers can request a refund for the unused portion of the ticket and for any extras they may have paid to the airline, such as baggage screening or assignment fees. local. Airlines often try to get consumers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.

After widespread flight disruptions last summer, the Transportation Department released an online dashboard designed to pressure airlines to improve customer service. The site allows consumers to check each airline’s policy regarding refunds and compensation in the event of flight cancellations or delays.

Each of the top 10 US airlines has swiftly promised to provide cash or meal vouchers when a cancellation forces passengers to wait at least three hours for another flight. Nine out of 10, all but Frontier Airlines, have also promised to pay for accommodation for passengers stranded overnight.

Questions arose again about reimbursement of direct costs to consumers after Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights during a December service slump. The Departments of Transportation and Justice are investigating whether Southwest has scheduled more flights than it could realistically handle.

The transport department says it is working with airlines to reduce cancellations and delays this summer, when air travel could break pre-coronavirus pandemic records.

A report last month from the Congressional Government Accountability Office blamed airlines for an increase in cancellations as air travel began to recover in 2021 and early 2022. The Federal Aviation Administration has also created disruptions due to disruptions technologies and staff shortages. The FAA recently encouraged airlines to cut flights to and from major New York airports this summer because it doesn’t have enough air traffic controllers at a key facility.

TEGNA staff contributed to this report.

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