What does an airline owe you when they cancel or delay your flight? New DOT dashboard may provide some answers

CLEVELAND, Ohio – What does an airline owe you when it delays or cancels your flight?

If your answer is “I don’t know,” there’s good news coming. The US Department of Transportation recently announced plans to create an online dashboard of airline policies, outlining exactly what each carrier promises their passengers when things go wrong.

And things have gone colossally wrong this summer.

The dashboard is one federal response to the chaos of this summer’s travel season, which has seen a spike in flight delays and cancellations, largely attributed to ongoing airline staffing shortages. On Monday alone, there were nearly 1,500 flight cancellations into and out of the United States, plus another 8,500 delays, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com.

Many affected travelers are left fending for themselves when it comes to rebooking a flight, asking for a refund or even receiving a meal while they wait hours to board their plane.

Airlines in the United States are generally not required to offer meals or hotel rooms to travelers who are inconvenienced by delayed or canceled flights, although sometimes they do. US carriers are required to offer a full refund for canceled flights – but even that policy is loosely enforced, as airlines often ask travelers to accept vouchers for future flights instead.

In a letter to top airline executives last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the airlines they have to do better. “The level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable,” Buttigieg wrote.

According to DOT figures, the first six months of 2022 saw more flight cancellations than all of 2021.

“As you know, these aren’t just numbers, these are missed birthday parties, graduations, time with loved ones and important meetings,” he wrote. “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.”

Airline policies typically are outlined in carriers’ contracts of carriage, lengthy legal documents that are hard to find and difficult to decipher.

The new DOT dashboard, expected to go live on Sept. 2, ahead of the busy Labor Day travel weekend, will be a one-stop destination for travelers with questions about what the airlines owe them and when.

Long-time consumer travel advocate William McGee said the dashboard isn’t nearly enough.

Instead of merely reporting what airlines are doing – or not doing – the DOT could force them to do more, he said.

“It’s nice gift wrapping,” said McGee, senior fellow for aviation at the American Economic Liberties Project, a nonprofit that advocates against corporate monopolies. “The gift underneath is not worth much.”

He added, “The dashboard is not providing a new set of rights. What it’s doing is assembling all of this really terrible information and putting it in one place, and putting a ribbon on it. “

A spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the industry, said US airlines issued more than $ 8 billion in cash refunds in 2021.

“Carriers strive to provide the highest level of customer service and look forward to working with the DOT to continue providing transparency for the traveling public,” said communications manager Marli Collier. “Airlines want travelers to have a safe, seamless and positive travel experience and are working toward that goal every day.”

Buttigieg, in his letter, urged airlines to assess their customer service plans to ensure that they guarantee “adequate amenities and services to help passengers with expenses and inconveniences due to delays and cancellations.”

“The Department asks that airlines, at a minimum, provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport because of disruptions within the carrier’s control.”

McGee, however, said the department should be doing much more than asking and urging.

“Rather than urging, how about demanding?” he said.

He’s hopeful that the new DOT dashboard may, at a minimum, motivate travelers to press their leaders for more.

This summer’s travel woes may finally prompt Congress to act on a series reforms, sometimes referred to as a passengers bill of rights, he said. It would set rules for airlines operating in the US, requiring minimum compensation for delayed or canceled flights, lost bags and other travel mishaps.

“I think this summer is a game changer,” he said. “I really hope something good can come out of this.”

The new dashboard will be housed on the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection site, at transportation.gov/airconsumer

Read more:

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