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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden seeks compensation for passengers for flight delays and cancellations


President Joe Biden is greeted by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg before delivering remarks about protecting consumers when there are significant flight disruptions, at the White House in Washington on Monday, May 8, 2023.

By Mark Walker


The Biden administration announced earlier this week that it would seek to require airlines to compensate passengers for lengthy flight delays and cancellations that are within their control.


The administration said it would start the process of establishing a new rule to require airlines to provide cash payments rather than merely refunds for significant travel disruptions. 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 Joe Biden said at the White House, where he appeared with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to announce the proposal.


“You deserve to be fully compensated,” Biden added. “Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”


The administration did not provide specifics about the proposal, such as how much airlines would be required to pay travelers. Biden said his administration would propose the rule “later this year.” The federal rule-making process can be lengthy, so the proposal is not likely to take effect anytime soon.


The airline industry has come under intense scrutiny after a string of woes, including a series of flight disruptions last year as air travel rebounded after plunging because 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 new proposal adds to Buttigieg’s efforts to push the airline industry to improve the 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, although 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 when a flight is significantly delayed or canceled for reasons within the airline’s control. Buttigieg has credited the creation of the dashboard with pushing airlines to improve their policies.


On Monday, the department announced it had expanded the dashboard — which can now be found at FlightRights.gov — to include information about what compensation, if any, airlines have committed to offering passengers for delays and cancellations.


The department has also pushed airlines to guarantee that young children can sit with an accompanying adult at no extra charge. In March, it unveiled a similar dashboard showing which airlines had done so.


The proposal to require airlines to provide compensation to passengers is the latest in a string of consumer-oriented steps announced by the Biden administration. In his State of the Union address in February, Biden highlighted his administration’s efforts to reduce “junk fees,” and he took aim at airlines for charging families to sit together.


The new proposal resembles a policy that is in place in the European Union, where passengers can receive up to 600 euros, or about $660, for delayed or canceled flights.


In addition to requiring compensation for passengers, the proposal would mandate that airlines cover expenses such as meals and hotel accommodations incurred because of delays or cancellations within the airlines’ control. Many airlines cover such expenses.


“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” Buttigieg said in a statement.


In a statement Monday, Airlines for America, a trade association representing the country’s largest airlines, said 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 airlines’ control, such as weather and air traffic control outages. It said 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.


At the White House on Monday, Buttigieg said there had been “unacceptable” rates of delayed and canceled flights last summer, but he said things were looking up.


“Each month so far this year, preliminary data show cancellation rates under 2%, even during that busy spring break season,” he said. “But summer travel is going to put enormous pressure on the system, and we need to continue our work.”

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