Originally Published: 31 Aug 22 15:16 ET
By Pete Muntean, CNN
(CNN) — Major US airlines have updated their customer service agreements following pressure from the Biden administration to step up consumer rights in the wake of a summer plagued by flight cancellations and delays.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest (pdf) have all published updates to their customer service policies this week.
The policies have been rewritten in clearer language with tweaks in some cases to when passengers can receive meal and hotel vouchers if a flight is canceled or delayed.
In United’s case, the airline is now offering meal vouchers for flights delayed more than three hours when the previous threshold was four hours. The changes were published online.
The airline also outlined its hotel voucher policy for unexpected overnight stays caused by something within the airline’s control. If vouchers are not available for their partner hotels, the airline said customers can submit a receipt to the airline’s Customer Care Team for reimbursement up to $200.
In a letter earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had asked airlines to reexamine their customer service plans and provide meals when flights are delayed more than three hours.
“A lot of the airlines have really upped their game and I think committed to some consumer protections in writing that they hadn’t previously,” said Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg in an interview with CNN. to work with them.”
Delta Air Lines said in a statement to CNN that the airline’s policies already aligned with Buttigieg’s requests, but that they’ve updated their language to make it clearer.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote back to Secretary Buttigieg outlining steps the airline has taken to mitigate cancellations.
Bastian said the airline provides “full and timely refunds to eligible passengers.”
“Since the beginning of 2020 we’ve refunded over 11 million tickets totaling $6 billion, of which 20% has taken place in 2022,” he wrote.
He also said they’ve hired 20,000 new employees since the beginning of 2021.
In his request to airlines, Buttigieg also asked carriers to provide hotel rooms in the event a cancellation causes passengers to need to wait overnight.
American Airlines is among those offering hotel rooms for air travelers in such situations so long as the cancellations aren’t caused by something beyond the airline’s control, like weather. The airline also outlines that it will cover transportation to and from the hotel.
Southwest also restricts hotel stays to cancellations beyond its control and says it’ll be provided “upon request if available.”
For more information, the revised policies are available here: American Airlines | Delta Air Lines | United Airlines | JetBlue | Southwest (pdf).
The moves come on the eve of the Labor Day rush and a vow from the Department of Transportation to roll out an online dashboard that more easily allows passengers to view their rights as consumers with comparative information on each airline.
Data from FlightAware shows US-based air carriers have canceled more than 45,000 flights since the start of June. On Tuesday, more than 800 flights within, to, or from the United States were canceled and the FAA imposed ground stops at all three of the DC area’s major airports as severe weather moved through.
The airlines continue to face pressure over how the summer went, including from 38 state attorneys general who on Wednesday sent a letter to Congress asking for more power to take legal action against the airlines, which they say “have systematically failed to live up to their responsibilities to their customers.”
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