Biden admin proposes requiring airlines compensate travelers for cancelations and delays

The Biden administration on Monday announced plans for new regulations to require airlines to provide compensation and cover expenses for meals and hotel rooms to stranded passengers when airlines are at fault for travel disruptions.

“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “This rule would, for the first time in U.S. history, propose to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels, and rebooking in cases where the airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay.”  

According to the Department of Transportation, the planned proposals are aimed at requiring airlines to provide compensation to passengers when there is a “controllable airline cancellation or significant delay, including meals, transportation to and from the hotel and fees incurred when rebooking on another flight.

Airlines currently do not guarantee cash compensation when an airline-related issue caucuses a significant delay or cancelation. Airlines often guarantee frequent flyer miles, travel credits or vouchers to passengers who experience delays or cancelations caused by an issue within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical issue. DOT said it seeks to ensure that passengers are better protected against financial losses with the proposed rules, and that it plans to define “controllable cancellation and delay” in this rulemaking.

The announcement comes as part of a push by the Biden administration to improve customer service to airline passengers. The Transportation Department released an online dashboard designed to improve customer service after after widespread flight disruptions last summer. The dashboard allows passengers to check an airline’s refund policy and compensation in the event of a flight cancelation or delay. Many of the largest U.S. airlines guarantee meals or hotel stays when they are at fault for a delay or cancelation, according to the dashboard.

The DOT also said it believes that the proposed rules will help improve airlines’ on-time performance.

The DOT launched an investigation into Southwest Airlines after thousands of its flights were canceled in late December. The department said it was investigatiing whether company executives scheduled an unrealistic volume of flights, “which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice.” The carrier said it is cooperating with all inquiries.

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