US wants airlines to increase aid for stranded and delayed passengers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urged the 10 largest U.S. airlines to do more to help stranded and delayed passengers, calling the level of disruption experienced by travelers this summer “unacceptable.”

Buttigieg, who has faced pressure from US lawmakers who want airlines to provide better service or face tough fines, has clashed with major US airlines over who is responsible for tens of thousands of flight delays and cancellations this summer.

In letters to the chief executives of major, regional and low-cost airlines announced Friday, Buttigieg said his department (USDOT) is “considering options” to write new rules “that would expand the rights of airline passengers.”

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He urged airlines to ensure adequate services for passengers facing delays and cancellations, asking them “at a minimum” to provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and accommodation for those who have to wait overnight due to disruptions within the carrier’s control.

“Regardless of the reason for the delay or cancellation, management expects airlines to provide responsive and timely customer service during and after periods of flight disruption,” Buttigieg wrote.

Most US airlines provide meals or hotel rooms if they cancel or postpone flights if they are responsible for the disruptions, but they are not legally required to do so. Passengers are often not aware of airline policies.

Airlines for America said the airlines will work with the ministry to provide transparency to travelers.

“Airlines want travelers to have a safe, smooth and positive travel experience, and are working towards that goal every day,” she said in a statement.

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In his letter, Buttigieg said he appreciates the steps airlines have taken to improve service, but that the level of disruption experienced by travelers in the United States this summer is “unacceptable.”

He said that in the first six months, nearly 24% of US airlines’ domestic flights were delayed and 3.2% canceled. Complaints from airline passengers to the USDOT have risen this year.

By September 2, the USDOT plans to create an “interactive dashboard” for air travelers to compare services or amenities provided by each of the large US airlines when cancellations or delays were due to circumstances under the airline’s control.

Buttigieg nearly met the airline’s chief executives before the busy travel weekend of July 4 to pressure them to perform better, set more realistic schedules, and said the airline industry is largely responsible for the travel woes.

Airlines say they have voluntarily reduced flights to improve service, increased hiring and argue that inadequate air traffic control staff has routinely affected flights.

The commercial airline group cited data saying that 63% of cancellations for the first five months of 2022 were caused by weather or national airspace issues.

On Monday, hundreds of flights were delayed at three major airports in the New York City area after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported staffing problems and said delays could be “close to two hours.”

USDOT is drafting a number of new rules for airline consumers, including requiring refunds for delayed baggage. In June, the agency warned that it could prevent airlines from charging extra fees to allow young children to sit next to accompanying family members.

David Shepardson News. Editing by Mark Heinrich, Mike Harrison and Dibba Babington

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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