Airlines could soon be forced to pay you if your flight is delayed or canceled

  • The Biden administration is proposing a new rule to address airline passengers' rights in the US.

  • It would require airlines to provide cash compensation for flight delays and cancellations.

  • JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are the only carriers that offer flight credit during lengthy delays, the DOT says.

The Biden administration announced plans Monday to propose a new rule that would require airlines to provide passengers cash compensation and cover the cost of meals, hotels, and flight rebooking in the case of controllable cancellations and delays.

Currently, there are no US laws or regulations requiring airlines to compensate passengers when their flights are delayed — unlike in Europe, where passengers are guaranteed cash compensation of up to 600 euros if their arrival is delayed by more than three hours.

The proposed regulations are a continuation of the department's recent efforts to name and shame airlines over their lack of customer protections after a period of rampant flight cancellations and delays in 2022.

"The FAA and Department of Transportation are doing our part but airlines need to accept their fundamental responsibility to better serve passengers when they don't," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during the Monday afternoon announcement. "We are here to enforce passenger rights and hold airlines accountable."

US Department of Transportation dashboard
The DOT airline customer service dashboard is now available on the newly launched website FlightRights.GovUS Department of Transportation

Along with the announcement came an update to the DOT's "airline customer service dashboard" highlighting which airlines offer cash compensation, travel credit, or frequent flyer miles when a airline-caused flight disruption forces passengers to wait three or more hours from their scheduled departure time.

No major US airline currently guarantees cash compensation for controllable delays or cancellations, the dashboard shows. Only Alaska Airlines and JetBlue offer flight credit or travel vouchers. Alaska Airlines also offers frequent flyer miles, according to the DOT.

In addition to requiring airlines to provide compensation and cover incurring expenses, the proposed rule would to address timely customer service during widespread flight irregularities like Southwest's December meltdown and create an industry-wide definition of a "controllable cancellation or delay," the DOT said.

As of now, each airline has its own definition of "force majeure" events. Typically, if a delay or cancellation is caused by circumstances outside the airline's control, such as weather, passengers are not entitled to any kind of compensation. However, some airlines' definitions are incredibly broad and cover any event that cannot be "reasonably foreseen," including issues such as shortages and strikes.

Implementing the proposed rule could take years and see legal pushback from the airline industry. For comparison, the department's 2021 proposal that would require airlines to refund passengers for delayed luggage and broken WiFi still has not taken effect.

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