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White House pushes tougher rules on passenger compensation for flight delays and cancellations

Biden proposes penalties for canceled flights
Biden to propose new rules to compensate passengers for delayed and canceled flights 01:58

The Biden administration is working on new regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers and cover their meals and hotel rooms if they're stranded for reasons within the airline's control.

President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the start of the rulemaking process Monday. The president said travelers deserve to be "fully compensated" when the airline could have prevented the delay or cancelation. 

"Later this year, my administration will propose a historic new rule that will make it mandatory, not voluntary but mandatory, for all U.S. airlines to compensate you with meals, hotels, taxis, ride shares and rebooking fees, and cash miles and or travel vouchers, whenever they're the ones to blame for the cancelation or delay," the president said. "And that's all on top of refunding the cost of your ticket." 

The rulemaking pledge continues a push by the Democratic administration to require airlines to improve customer service, and it comes just weeks before the start of the peak summer travel season. Mr. Biden noted that airlines particularly owe this to their customers after U.S. taxpayers helped keep the airline industry afloat at the beginning of the pandemic. 

The aim of the rules would be, for the first time, to require airlines to pay compensation beyond a ticket refund and to cover expenses that consumers incur, including rebooking on another flight, if the airline causes a cancellation or significant delay. 

"We depend on airlines to get us to weddings, vacations and job interviews that often wind up being some of the most important and memorable events in our lives," Buttigieg said Monday. "And our economy depends on these airlines doing a good job. When you board a flight, whether you are up before dawn, coffee in hand, ready to go to a conference, or up past everyone's bedtime, wrangling toddlers like Chasten and I were the other night, you count on that airline to provide the service that you paid for. We're here today to share the latest steps that we are taking to ensure that airlines do just that." 

Mr. Biden encouraged travelers to visit to find out exactly what airlines owe them. 

Refunds or vouchers

Currently, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, consumers 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 consumers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.

After widespread flight disruptions last summer, the Transportation Department posted an online dashboard designed to pressure the airlines to improve customer service. The site enables consumers to check each airline's policy on refunds and compensation when flights are canceled or delayed.

Airline industry makes adjustments ahead of busy travel season 03:22

Each of the 10 largest U.S. airlines quickly promised to provide cash or vouchers for meals when a cancellation forces passengers to wait at least three hours for another flight. Nine of the 10 — all but Frontier Airlines — also promised to pay for accommodations for passengers stranded overnight.

Questions arose again around reimbursing consumers for out-of-pocket costs after Southwest Airlines canceled nearly 17,000 flights during a December meltdown in service. The Transportation and Justice departments are investigating whether Southwest scheduled more flights than it realistically could handle.

The Transportation Department says it's working with the carriers to reduce cancellations and delays this summer, when air travel could exceed pre-coronavirus pandemic records.

A report last month from the congressional Government Accountability Office blamed airlines for many cancellations, but the Federal Aviation Administration has also created disruptions due to technology outages and staffing shortages. The FAA recently encouraged airlines to reduce flights to and from major New York airports this summer because it doesn't have enough air traffic controllers at a key facility.

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