Airlines Clean Up Voucher Rules Just As New DOT Dashboard Goes Live

THEna flurry of updates, the largest US airlines have shored up their written customer service agreements, spelling out exactly when they will provide meal vouchers for customers whose flights are significantly delayed and hotel vouchers for passengers stranded due to canceled flights.

Within the past week, the country’s five largest carriers – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines – have tweaked their policies for transparency and, in some cases, to reflect changes in policy. For example, United Airlines lowered the threshold for when it provides meal vouchers when a flight is delayed, from four hours to three hours.

MORE FROM FORBESAirlines Are Slashing Tens Of Thousands Of Flights From Their Fall And Winter Schedules

The changes came just before the Department of Transportation’s brand new Aviation Consumer Protection website went live in time for Labor Day weekend.

While airlines have long provided vouchers to compensate customers when flights are disrupted, there has been a stark lack of uniformity across the industry. Decisions could often seem arbitrary, left to the discretion of gate agents instead of being dictated by airline policy.

Last month, in a letter to airline CEOs, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked the carriers to rethink their customer service plans and provide meals when flights are delayed more than three hours.

After receiving $ 54 billion in pandemic relief, it was now time for airlines to “step up” and do more to quell these disruptions, US Transportation Secretary told a panel on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month.

“The rules of the bailout said that you couldn’t fire anybody to keep people on your payroll,” Buttigieg said. “But I see a lot of pilots going into early retirement. And now [the airlines] don’t have enough pilots. And sometimes there are other staffing or crew issues. “

The DOT’s new dashboard shows side-by-side comparisons of what each airline offers in the event of a controllable delay or cancellation. In most cases, vouchers are provided if disruptions are caused by an issue like understaffing or a technical glitch but not if flights are delayed or canceled for reasons outside an airline’s control, such as weather.

The dashboard highlights what travelers can expect from different airlines, with budget carriers like Allegiant and Frontier often falling short when it comes to compensating customers for disruptions caused by factors within their control.

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On the heels of a horrendous summer, some airlines have preemptively rightsized their fall and winter schedules by trimming tens of thousands of flights over the next six months in the hopes of curbing the huge volumes of delays and cancellations seen recently.

On Wednesday, airports around the world tallied more than 17,500 flight delays, nearly a quarter of which occurred in the United States, according to FlightAware tracking data. Notably, that was a significant improvement following weeks of 20,000-plus delays per day.

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