The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is set to launch a new rulemaking that is aimed at requiring airlines to provide compensation and expense cover for stranded passengers.
The proposed rulemaking will see mandatory requirements for compensation including expense coverage for meals, hotels, and rebooking when airlines are responsible for stranding passengers.
After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the ten largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline.
Nine airlines guarantee hotel accommodations as part of the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard.
The move towards mandatory compensation
DOT expanded the dashboard today at FlightRights.Gov to highlight which airlines currently offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flyer miles when they cause flight delays or cancellations.
DOT’s planned rulemaking would make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight disruptions.
“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“This rule would, for the first time in U.S. 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.”
Extent of the planned rulemaking
The planned rulemaking is aimed at addressing:
- Compensation for passengers when there is a controllable airline cancellation or significant delay;
- A meal or meal voucher, overnight accommodations, ground transportation to and from the hotel, and rebooking for controllable delays or cancellations;
- Timely customer service during and after periods of widespread flight irregularities; and
- Definition of a controllable cancellation or delay.
The following categories were added to the DOT Dashboard as 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.
Today’s announcement further builds upon work that DOT has been pushing on for the last two years. Last summer, Secretary Buttigieg urged to improve their customer service plans before the release of the Airline Customer Service Dashboard. Airlines responded.
Before the Secretary’s letter, none of the 10 largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals or hotels when the airline was at fault for a delay or cancellation.
Now, all 10 guarantee meals and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes the delay or cancellation.
The move towards the historic rulemaking follows a couple of recent incidents which have seen widespread travel chaos, including mass flight delays and disruptions.
In December 2022, an investigation was launched following the holiday season meltdown which saw US carrier Southwest Airlines cancel hundreds of flights across the contiguous United States.
The ensuing chaos saw both passengers and company aircrew stranded across various locations.
More recently, severe disruptions occurred as a result of an FAA technology failure and subsequent outage of the NOTAM reporting system. The system outage resulted in approximately 7000 flights being cancelled after the system went off-line on the evening of January 10, 2023.