Flight Delays Prompt Revamp of Airline Meal, Hotel Offerings (1)

  • Buttigieg pressures airlines about delays, cancellations
  • Air travel complaints up 270% from pre-pandemic levels

(Adds Allied Pilots Association president’s comments in ninth paragraph.)

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Passengers finding themselves with a lengthy delay or canceled flight have a new way to check what they can get from airlines, ahead of an expected travel rush for Labor Day weekend.

The Biden administration launched a dashboard Thursday where passengers can check if airlines will provide meals, rebooking, or hotel rooms when flights are delayed or canceled because of issues in the airlines’ control. Many major airlines have also revamped their food and lodging policies, which don’t apply to weather-related delays.

The Transportation Department unveiled the website after what the agency calls an “unacceptable level” of flight disruption this year. The dashboard details which of the 10 major carriers in the US — including Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., and United Airlines Holdings Inc. — provide meal vouchers when passengers wait three or more hours, and which offer lodging if the delay is overnight.

“Passengers deserve transparency and clarity on what to expect from an airline when there is a cancelation or disruption,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg
A departures board at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1, 2022.

Airlines have increasingly struggled to manage demand, with about 3% of flights canceled and 21% delayed during the first six months of the year, according to data submitted by carriers. In return, complaints about air travel have jumped about 270% from pre-pandemic levels. The department has proposed a rule to expand protections for passengers wanting refunds for canceled flights.

Buttigieg asked airlines in August to provide meals and hotels for lengthy delays. No airlines had guaranteed hotels or meals before the letter, but now eight of the 10 airlines are pledging to provide hotels, and nine of the 10 are committing to meals, a senior administration official said on a call with reporters.

Buttigieg Urges US Airlines to Buy Meals for Delayed Passengers

Airlines say they already gave travelers benefits — though several updated their customer service plans ahead of the dashboard’s debut.

Southwest Airlines Co. said its plan provides “clear expectation of minimum requirements” it already has in place, while Delta said it updated language “to be explicitly clear” on services and amenities it provides. It offered to rebook passengers “at no additional cost” and provide meal vouchers for waits beyond three hours, according to a review of the changes. American explicitly added that it would provide meal vouchers if the delay is three or more hours after scheduled departure.

Ed Sicher, an American Airlines captain and head of the Allied Pilots Association, called the dashboard “a start” to get airlines to improve operations. “It’s the fox in the chicken coop when the airlines keep the stats and report them to the government,’’ Sicher said of flight delay data for which carriers assign a cause — including weather, security, or air carrier. He suggested the government should track disrupted flights directly instead.

Wave of Airline Flight Delays This Year Mostly Self-Inflicted

Some say the Transportation Department still isn’t doing enough. States launched a new push this week to urge passage of legislation that would give authority to state attorneys general to enforce consumer protection laws over the airline industry. Currently, federal law places that responsibility with the Transportation Department.

“If state attorneys general had a substantial and meaningful role in overseeing airline consumer protection, the failure of the US DOT would be ameliorated by the ability of state attorneys general to enforce the law,” they wrote Wednesday.

—With assistance from Alan Levin.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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