US wants airlines to step up help for stranded and delayed passengers

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has urged the 10 largest U.S. airlines to do more to help stranded and delayed passengers, calling the level of disruption travelers have faced this summer a ‘”unacceptable”.

Buttigieg, who has come under pressure from US lawmakers who want airlines to provide better service or face hefty fines, has clashed with major US airlines over who is responsible for the tens of thousands of delays and flight cancellations this summer.

In letters to chief executives of major regional and low-cost carriers released Friday, Buttigieg said his department (USDOT) is “considering options” to draft new rules “that would further expand airline passenger rights.”

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He urged airlines to provide adequate services to passengers facing delays and cancellations, asking them “at a minimum” to provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and accommodation for those who have to wait. overnight due to disruptions within the control of the carrier.

“Regardless of the cause of delays or cancellations, the Department expects airlines to provide prompt and responsive customer service during and after periods of flight disruptions,” Buttigieg wrote.

Most US airlines provide meals or hotel accommodations if they cancel or delay flights if they cause disruptions, but they are not legally required to do so. Passengers are often unaware of airline policies.

The Airlines for America trade group said the carriers would work with the department to provide transparency for travelers.

“Airlines want travelers to have a safe, transparent and positive travel experience and work towards this goal every day,” he said in a statement.

In his letter, Buttigieg said he appreciates the steps airlines are taking to improve service, but the level of disruption American travelers have faced this summer is “unacceptable.”

He said that in the first six months, about 24% of US airlines’ domestic flights were delayed and 3.2% were canceled. Complaints to the USDOT from airline passengers have skyrocketed this year.

The USDOT plans by September 2 to create an “interactive dashboard” allowing air travelers to compare the services or amenities provided by each of the major US airlines when the cancellation or delay was due to circumstances under the control of the airline.

Buttigieg virtually met with airline CEOs ahead of the busy July 4 travel weekend to urge them to perform better, set more realistic schedules and said the airline industry is largely responsible for the problems of travel.

Airlines say they have voluntarily reduced flights to improve service, increased hiring and say insufficient air traffic control staff have regularly impacted flights.

The airline trade group cited data indicating that 63% of cancellations for the first five months of 2022 were caused by weather or domestic airspace issues.

On Monday, hundreds of flights were delayed at three major New York-area airports after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported staffing issues and said delays could “approach two hours.”

The USDOT is drafting a number of new rules for airline consumers, including requiring refunds for delayed baggage. In June, the agency warned it could ban airlines from charging extra fees for allowing young children to sit next to accompanying family members.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Mike Harrison and Deepa Babington

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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