US wants airlines to offer more assistance to stranded, delayed passengers

US wants airlines to offer more assistance to stranded, delayed passengers

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (Reuters) – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has urged the 10 largest US airlines to do more to help stranded and delayed passengers.

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

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

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He urged airlines to provide adequate services for passengers experiencing delays and cancellations, asking them “minimally” 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 the delays or cancellations, the Department expects airlines to provide timely and responsive customer service during and after periods of flight disruption,” Buttigieg wrote.

Most US airlines offer meals or hotel rooms if they cancel or delay flights if they are responsible for disruptions, but they are not required by law to do so. Passengers are often unaware of airline policies.

Trading group Airlines for America said airlines would work with the department to provide transparency to travelers.

“Airlines want travelers to have a safe, seamless and positive travel experience and are working towards that goal every day,” it said in a statement.

In his letter, Buttigieg said he appreciated the steps airlines had taken to improve service, but the level of disruption US travelers experienced 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 cancelled. Complaints to USDOT from airline passengers have soared this year.

USDOT plans to create an “interactive dashboard” for air travelers by Sept. 2 to compare services or amenities each of the major U.S. carriers offers when the cancellation or delay was due to circumstances within the airline’s control.

Buttigieg had a virtual meeting with airline CEOs ahead of the busy July 4 travel weekend to pressure them to perform better, set more realistic schedules and said the airline industry is largely responsible for the travel problems.

Airlines say they have voluntarily reduced the number of flights to improve service, ramped up staff hiring and allege insufficient air traffic control staff routinely impacts flights.

The aviation trade group cited data that 63% of cancellations for the first five months of 2022 were caused by weather conditions or problems with national airspace.

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

USDOT is drafting a number of new consumer rules for airlines, including refunds for delayed baggage. In June, the agency warned that it may prohibit airlines from charging additional fees to seat young children 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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