The Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced plans for new regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses for meals and hotel rooms when flights are delayed or canceled.
In a statement on Monday, DOT said the aim of the rules would be to require airlines to provide compensation beyond a ticket refund and to cover expenses that consumers incur, including rebooking on another flight when the airline is at fault for a delay or cancellation.
“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “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.”
The statement did not specify how much cash airlines would be required to pay passengers for significant delays.
On Monday, the department made clear on a government website that no U.S. carriers have agreed to provide cash compensation for delayed or canceled flights under carriers’ control. However, it did ask carriers last year whether they would agree to pay at least $100 for delays of at least three hours caused by airlines.
President Joe Biden, joined by Buttigieg, is set to announce the start of the rulemaking process on Monday at 1:45 p.m. EDT, according to a White House official.
However, it could take years to write and finalize rules, and some carriers privately question whether the department has the legal authority to mandate compensation for delays. A July 2021 proposal to require airlines to refund consumers fees for baggage that is delayed, or onboard services like Wi-Fi that do not work, are still not finalized.
In addition to unveiling plans for new regulations, the DOT also expanded an online dashboard designed to improve customer service by highlighting which types of compensation, if any, airlines guarantee.
The following categories were added to the dashboard:
- Cash compensation when a cancellation or delay results in a passenger waiting three hours or more from the scheduled departure time;
- Travel credit/voucher when a cancellation or delay results in a passenger waiting for three hours or more for scheduled departure time; and
- Frequent flyer miles when a cancellation or delay results in a passenger waiting for three hours or more for a flight from the scheduled departure time.
According to the dashboard, most major U.S. carriers currently offer meals or hotel stays when they are at fault for a delay or cancellation, including American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.
“After a two-year DOT push to improve the passenger experience, the 10 largest airlines guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations as part of the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard,” the department stated.
There is no legal requirement for airlines to compensate Americans for delayed or canceled flights, but the European Union and some other countries require compensation of up to $663 for most significant delays.
Airline-caused cancellations include flights scrubbed for mechanical issues with the plane or lack of a crew.
Currently, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, customers can demand a refund of the unused part of their ticket and certain extras that they might have paid to the airline, such as fees for checking a bag or getting a seat assignment. Airlines often try to persuade customers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.