Just ahead of Labor Day weekend, the federal government is doubling down on US airlines, calling disruptions seen over the past few months “unacceptable” and demanding change.
Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote to carriers on Thursday, calling on them to improve their customer service and warns airlines that new rules may be coming to better empower travelers who face flight disruptions within the airlines control.
“Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” the secretary wrote.
According to data from the department, roughly 24% of domestic flights of US airlines have been delayed and 3.2% have been canceled during the first six months of this year.
DOT said it will launch a new website in the coming weeks where travelers can see exactly what they are owed and the differences in compensation among all major airlines.
“When passengers do experience cancellations and delays, they deserve clear and transparent information on the services that your airline will provide, to address the expenses and inconveniences resulting from these disruptions,” Buttigieg wrote.
Buttigieg said airlines need to “assess” their customer service plans, and asks that carriers, at minimum, provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and hotels for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport due to disruptions within the airline’s control.
Airlines for America (A4A), the group that lobbies on behalf of all major US airlines, responded to the letter saying its members are “committed” to working with stakeholders to overcome these challenges.
Carriers have pointed to increased demand and staffing issues for the disruptions. A4A also cited data that indicates 63% of the cancellations for the first five months of 2022 were caused by weather and the National Airspace System (NAS) collectively.
The DOT letter comes amid a push for consumer rights – earlier this month the department announced a new rule that would “strengthen” protections for customers seeking refunds.
The rule, if enacted, would define the terms of a “significant” change and cancellation for the first time and also require airlines to issue refunds for flights delayed by three hours.