In the grand scheme of things, most airlines are simply reaffirming what they have long offered: meal vouchers and hotel rooms for delays within their control. Even so, memorializing it in a written policy is a positive step in reducing the sort of shcnenanginas that so often play out when operations go sideways.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Meal Vouchers And Hotel Rooms During Flight Delays – Why Written Policies Matter
Just a week ago, I wrote about the ultimatum handed down by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ahead of the Labor Day Weekend, calling upon airlines to offer more transparency and accountability to customers who are impacted by flight delays that are within the carrier’s control.
> Read More: Buttigieg Gives U.S. Airlines An “Ultimatum”
“At a minimum,” Buttigieg asked airlines to provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers stuck overnight because of disruptions within the carrier’s control.
Yesterday, U.S. carriers jointly agreed to this minimum level of protection.
On the one hand, this isn’t exactly breaking news. Even the budget carriers already offer you a token meal voucher and space permitting, a hotel voucher for incidents within its control. In that sense, the agreement by U.S. carriers is a nothingburger.
But I actually label this a small but substantial victory for airline customers because it will now be clearly memorialized on airline websites and on a central repository of airline compensation information on the Department of Transportation website.
One reason we love airline award charts is because of the accountability that produces. With explicit policies governing meal vouchers and hotels for delays, a consumer is more likely to encounter a better outcome and the threat of further government coercion will make airlines think twice before lying about reasons for flight delays.
It’s true that for delays like weather and Air Traffic Control, no assistance is required. Maybe that’s for the best, but I hope this new written policy will make carriers far more hesitant to engage in the sort of unethical practice Air Canada is currently engaging in (the Canadian flag carrier is saying that virtually any operational problem is due to COVID-19, and therefore beyond its control).
Airline Negotiated Rates: Untapped Potential
Let’s talk about those weather delays and other delays that fall outside of an airline’s control.
While not a perfect analogy, just like it’s about the time the U.S. federal government starts negotiating for prescription drug prices, now is the time that airlines should negotiate distress rates for consumers (as they do for their own employees). Sure, if a thursndersom cancels your flight you might be on your own for a hotel, but at least you can take advantage of United or Delta or American’s purchasing power to save on your hotel room. To prevent people from using this rate code (I would think a standard rate code would be needed), a same-day boarding pass could be required at check-in.
My hazy memory seems to recall green slips of paper that airlines used to hand out that promised “discounted” hotel rates. These days, we just go to Agota or Hotwire to search for last-minute hotel deals, but there is a better way that could leave consumers feeling taken care of without the airlines being forced to act by the feds.
While carriers are only officially agreeing to what most already do, there is a great advantage to having policies clearly spelled out in writing. Airlines that rely so much upon taxpayer support for everything from infrastructure to research and development to payroll support should agree to basic levels of care for consumers. I hope this is just the beginning, not the end…