WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would seek to require airlines to compensate passengers for extensive flight delays and cancellations.
The proposed rule would require airlines to provide cash payments rather than merely refunds for significant travel disruptions that were within the airline’s control. No major U.S. airline currently guarantees cash compensation for delays or cancellations, according to the Transportation Department.
“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines,” President Biden said at the White House on Monday, where he appeared with Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, to announce the proposal. The president added that he wanted to “get American air travelers a better deal.”
The airline industry has come under intense scrutiny after a string of woes, including many recent flight disruptions as travelers return to the skies after the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In December, a winter storm led to an operational meltdown at Southwest Airlines, stranding passengers during the holiday travel season.
The proposed rule adds to Mr. Buttigieg’s efforts to push the airline industry to improve customer experience. During his tenure, the Transportation Department has imposed millions of dollars in fines on airlines for a number of violations, including for issues related to customer refunds, though some critics have pushed for him to take a harder line with the industry.
In September, the department rolled out an online dashboard showing travelers what services they are entitled to if their flights are delayed or canceled. Mr. Buttigieg has credited the creation of the dashboard with pushing airlines to improve their policies toward consumers.
The department has also pushed airlines to guarantee that young children can sit with their parents without extra charges. In March, it unveiled a similar dashboard showing which airlines had done so.
The proposed rule announced on Monday is the latest in a string of consumer-oriented steps announced by the Biden administration. In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Biden highlighted his administration’s efforts to reduce “junk fees,” and he took aim at airlines for charging families to sit together.
The proposal to require airlines to provide compensation to passengers for flight delays and cancellations resembles a policy that is already in place in the European Union, where passengers can be entitled to receive up to 600 euros, or about $660, for travel disruptions.
“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” Mr. Buttigieg said in a statement. “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.”
In addition to requiring compensation for passengers, the new proposal would also require airlines to cover expenses like meals and hotel accommodations that are incurred because of delays or cancellations within the airlines’ control. Many airlines already do so.
In a statement on Monday, Airlines for America, a trade association representing the country’s largest airlines, said that U.S. airlines had “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.”
The group pointed to factors outside the airlines’ control, such as weather and air traffic control outages. It said that more than half of cancellations last year were caused by weather, and it noted that airlines had reduced their schedules in response to Federal Aviation Administration staffing shortages.
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