U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has warned that if airlines do not improve upon their “unacceptable” performance in terms of operations and consumer protections, new regulations protecting passengers will become necessary.
Buttigieg Warns More Consumer Protections If Airlines Do Not Improve Customer Service On Their Own
In a letter to airline CEOs, Buttigieg began with this baseline:
“Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably.”
While he acknowledges that not all delays and cancellations can be blamed on the airlines (“The Department also recognizes that it is not reasonable to expect 100% adherence to published schedules by carriers, due to bad weather, equipment failures, air traffic control issues, and sudden crew illness”), he asserts:
“Still, the level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable.”
Buttigieg points out that from January – June 2022, roughly 24% of U.S. domestic flights have been delayed and 3.2% have been canceled. To make it easier for consumers to understand their current rights when delays occurs within the airline’s control, the DOT is creating an interactive dashboard that provides air travelers a single venue where they can locate easily digestible, comparative summary information on the services or amenities that each of the large U.S. airlines provide in case of delay. That new section of the website will go live on September 2, 2022.
Finally, Buttigieg offers a warning to airlines:
[T]he Department is currently collecting comments on a proposed rule to clarify passengers’ access to refunds when they experience flight delays or cancelations. We are also contemplating options for rulemaking that would further expand the rights of airline passengers who experience disruptions.
“At a minimum” Buttigieg asks airlines to provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight because of disruptions within the carrier’s control.
It seems to me that meal vouchers and lodging vouchers are absolutely the minimum airlines can do in case of long delays within their control (and most already do). Buttigieg’s “ultimatum” to carriers will not carry any teeth unless something more substantive, like cash compensation or obligatory cash refunds for delays of three hours or more, is threatened.
Buttigieg’s letter puts carriers on notice and does offer an ultimatum to improve customer service but the “at minimum” proposals (food and lodging) is hardly enough to cause carriers to make meaningful changes to their customer service models. Until harsher rules are proposed on paper, I doubt we will see any practical changes.
And until Air Traffic Control gets its act together, carriers will always have a defense for their poor performance (albeit a weak one)…
image: Gage Skidmore