US airlines may soon have to compensate passengers for travel disruptions that are airline-caused and related.
The Biden administration announced on May 8, 2023 its plans to write a new legislation that will require airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for amenities such as meals, hotels and rebooking when airlines are responsible for the travel disruption. This is on top of airlines refunding unused tickets.
“If your flight is very delayed or canceled and the airline could have prevented that from — you deserve more than just being — getting the price of your ticket. You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters,” US President Joe Biden said in his May 8, 2023 speech.
President Biden continued to say: “Later this year, my administration will propose a historic new rule that will make it mandatory, not voluntary — but mandatory for all U.S. airlines to compensate you with meals, hotels, taxis, ride shares, or rebooking fees, and cash, miles, and/or travel vouchers whenever they are the ones to blame for the cancellation or delay. And that’s all on top of refunding the cost of your ticket.”
Currently, when delays and cancellations are due to the airline, the law only requires airlines to refund customers the amount of their flight ticket, but not the cost of meals, hotels or transportation during the travel disruption period.
According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), the planned rulemaking is aimed to address the following:
- 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 also added to Commitments for Controllable Cancellations and Controllable Delays:
- Cash compensation when cancellation or delay results in passenger waiting three hours or more from the scheduled departure time;
- Travel credit/voucher when cancellation or delay results in passenger waiting for three hours or more for scheduled departure time; and
- Frequent flier miles when cancellation or delay results in passengers waiting for three hours or more for a flight from the scheduled departure time.
Only one airline currently guarantees frequent flier miles, and just two airlines guarantee travel credits or vouchers as compensation if passengers experience significant delays or cancellations that are caused by the airline, such as a mechanical issue.
Currently, no US airline guarantees cash compensation when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation.
In August 2022, the DOT announced the launch of an online dashboard for customers to compare each US airlines’ flight cancellation and delay policies. The dashboard was recently updated to highlight which airlines currently offer cash compensation, provide travel credits or vouchers, or award frequent flier miles when they cause flight delays or cancellations.