Airlines may soon be required to compensate passengers for extensive flight delays and controllable cancellations, the Biden administration announced today.
During a speech at the White House, President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg shared that the Transportation Department would be putting forward a rule that would require airlines to compensate passengers—with meals, hotels, and ground transportation, as well as cash, miles, or travel vouchers—for significant disruptions within the airlines’ control. Those disruptions could include staffing shortages and damaged equipment, but not weather.
“You count on that airline to provide the service you paid for,” Buttigieg said. “We’re here today to share the latest steps that we’re taking to ensure that airlines do just that.”
Biden pointed to two actions the Transportation Department is taking to help protect passengers going forward. The first is an expansion of the Airline Customer Service Dashboard created last fall to make airline compensation policies more transparent for travelers. As of today, that dashboard also shows any additional compensation each airline provides, such as cash, miles, or travel vouchers. Currently, only Alaska Airlines and JetBlue offer credits and travel vouchers when cancellations result in a passenger waiting for three or more hours from the scheduled departure time.
During his speech, Biden credited the dashboard for pushing airlines to offer passengers more when the carrier was at fault.
“A year ago, no major airline guaranteed any compensation beyond the price of the ticket if the delay was their fault,” Biden said. “We challenged them to do better. They did. Airlines started changing their policies, and now nine major airlines cover hotels, ten cover meals, and ten rebook for free. That’s real savings.”
The second step will occur at an unspecified date later this year. Biden said his administration is working on drafting a new rule that will make it mandatory for all U.S. airlines to compensate for meals, hotels, taxi or rideshares, and rebooking fees, as well as cash, miles, or travel vouchers—on top of refunding the cost of the ticket. No major U.S. airline currently guarantees cash compensation for delays or cancellations within its control.
“If your flight is very delayed or canceled, you deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket [refunded],” Biden said. “You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”
Airlines for America, a trade group representing most of the biggest U.S. airlines, released a statement today saying that airlines “have no incentive to delay or cancel flights” and added that more than half of cancellations in 2022 and 2023 were caused by extreme weather or traffic control outages.
“Carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control and continue working diligently to improve operational reliability,” Airlines for America said.
In today’s speech, Biden also noted that later this year, the Transportation Department would finalize another rule that would require airlines to show the total cost of a flight, including additional charges for bags or preselecting a seat, at the time of booking.
These rules are just the latest moves in the Biden administration’s ongoing effort to make airlines more accountable and provide a better customer experience. Earlier this year, the DOT imposed millions of dollars in fines on airlines for not delivering timely refunds to travelers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed. The department also issued a notice to carriers to ensure that young children are seated with their accompanying adults at no additional cost. Currently, Alaska, American, and Frontier guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 and under, according to the Transportation Department’s dashboard, and United is launching a new seat map feature for parents and guardians to book seats next to their children for free.