New Flight Cancellation Compensation Expected

Flight Cancellation Compensation
Airport screen showing cancelled flights | Image by William Barton, Shutterstock

New changes have been proposed for the compensation air travelers receive following flight disruptions or cancellations.

The Biden administration is working on new regulations to require airlines to compensate travelers when flights are delayed or canceled due to events under their control.

The proposed rules would offer compensation on top of ticket refunds, matching protections currently provided to European Union travelers.

“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on airline accountability.

“That’s why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal. You deserve more than just … getting the price of your ticket. You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”

The Transportation Department said it is working quickly to publish a notice to get the process started for the new regulations but did not set a timeline for when it expects the rules to be enacted.

The new regulations will focus on flights that get delayed by mechanical and airline staffing issues.

Airlines for America (A4A), an organization that represents major carriers, pushed back on the proposed rules, arguing that most cancellations or delays stem from issues outside of airlines’ control and that over half of the cancellations in 2022 and 2023 have been caused by “extreme weather” events or air traffic control.

“Carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control and continue working diligently to improve operational reliability. This includes launching aggressive, successful hiring campaigns for positions across the industry and reducing schedules,” A4A said in a statement.

In 2023, 1.6% of all flights were canceled year-to-date, according to FlightAware.

Under current rules, when a flight is canceled, travelers can ask for a refund for the unused portion of their ticket and extras that they intended to pay, like baggage fees or seat assignment fees. Airlines tend to push consumers into accepting travel vouchers for future flights instead of refunds.

Last year, the Transportation Department created an online dashboard to let travelers compare airlines’ policies on refunds and compensation. It will now update the dashboard to include which airlines offer cash, travel vouchers, or frequent-flyer miles for flight cancellations or delays under the airlines’ control.

Currently, only Alaska Airlines offers frequent-flyer miles, and only Alaska and JetBlue offer travel credits, according to the Transportation Department’s dashboard.

Both Biden and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg have claimed that the dashboard increased airline accountability, leading some to start offering meals vouchers when delays or cancellations added more than three hours.

Only Frontier Airlines does not pay for hotel accommodations for passengers stranded overnight under these circumstances, per the dashboard.

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