Throughout 2022, Americans have experienced an unacceptable level of flight delays and cancellations. When these disruptions occur, airlines are required to support passengers based on commitments made in their customer service plans, but too often passengers find those plans are difficult to understand and do not guarantee services – such as meals or hotel accommodations when they must wait overnight at an airport – even for flights that are delayed or canceled because of the carrier. To ensure the traveling public has easy access to this information, the U.S. Department of Transportation today rolled out a new airline customer service dashboard, which includes recent improvements to customer service made by airlines at the urging of Secretary Buttigieg.
Two weeks ago, Secretary Buttigieg wrote a letter to airline CEOs informing them that DOT would publish the dashboard before Labor Day and urged the airlines to improve their customer service plans before the release. As a result, all but one of the ten largest U.S. airlines made significant changes to their plans to improve services provided to passengers when their flights are canceled or delayed because of an airline issue. For example, no airline unconditionally guaranteed meal vouchers or hotels prior to Secretary Buttigieg’s letter.
Now, nine of the 10 guarantee meals and eight of the 10 guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes the delay or cancelation.
The dashboard provides air travelers a one-stop location to obtain information on the services and amenities they should receive from airlines if they experience delays or cancelations that are caused by something within the airline’s control like a mechanical or staffing issue. The dashboard also provides a clear comparison of amenities the airlines have committed to provide, which will assist consumers when deciding which airline to fly. The creation of this new tool is one of the many steps the Department is taking to improve customer service provided to travelers. The Department will hold airlines accountable if they fail to provide the promised services. The Department has also provided direct links to airlines’ customer service plans on its Aviation Consumer Protection website.
“Passengers deserve transparency and clarity on what to expect from an airline when there is a cancelation or disruption,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This dashboard collects that information in one place so travelers can easily understand their rights, compare airline practices, and make informed decisions. The Department will continue to support passengers and to hold airlines responsible for adhering to their customer obligations.”
Regardless of the cause of the delays or cancelations, the Department expects airlines to provide timely and responsive customer service during and after periods of flight disruptions. Moreover, regardless of the cause of significant delays or cancelations, airlines are required to provide prompt refunds to ticketed passengers should a passenger choose not to accept the alternative offered such as rebooking on another flight.
In addition to the dashboard, the Department is currently collecting comments on a proposed rule that would 1) require airlines to proactively inform passengers that they have a right to receive a refund when a flight is canceled or significantly changed, 2) define a significant change and cancellation that would entitle a consumer to a refund, 3) require airlines to provide non-expiring vouchers or travel credits when people can’t travel because they have COVID-19 or other communicable diseases; and 4) require airlines that receive significant government assistance related to a pandemic to issue refunds instead of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers when passengers are unable or advised not to travel because of a serious communicable disease. The Department is also considering options for an additional rulemaking that would further expand the rights of airline passengers who experience flight disruptions.
In addition, the Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) recently concluded its investigation of 10 airlines and is pursuing enforcement action against them for extreme delays in providing refunds for flights the airlines canceled or significantly changed. The Office is also actively investigating the refund practices of additional airlines flying to, from, or within the United States. In November 2021, OACP issued its largest fine ever against an airline for extreme delays in providing refunds to thousands of consumers for flights to or from the United States that a carrier canceled.
Further, over the past year, the Department has taken a number of other actions to improve protection for airline passengers such as:
- Calling on airlines to seat families together free of charge.
- Issuing fines to multiple airlines that violated tarmac delay rule violations.
- Issuing a proposed rule to improve accessibility of lavatories on single-aisle aircraft for individuals with disabilities and creating the first-ever Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights.