Biden admin. presses for airlines to pay passengers for delays, cancellations

The holiday season collapse of Southwest Airlines’ infrastructure has spurred the Biden administration to strengthen financial penalties against airlines.

Disgruntled fliers may finally get compensated for extended delays and cancellations based on new regulations being developed by the Biden administration.

The move to penalize airlines for undue delays comes amid an intense wave of cancellations by Southwest Airlines during the holidays.


Driving the news: The Biden administration is working on new regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers and cover their meals and hotel rooms if they are stranded for reasons within the airline’s control.

  • The aim of the rules would be, for the first time, to require airlines to pay compensation beyond a ticket refund and to cover expenses that consumers incur, including rebooking on another flight, if the airline causes a cancellation or significant delay.
  • The Transportation and Justice departments are investigating whether Southwest Airlines scheduled more flights than it realistically could handle, leading to nearly 17,000 flight cancellations during a December meltdown in service.
  • The Transportation Department is working with the airlines to reduce cancellations and delays this summer, when air travel could exceed pre-coronavirus pandemic records.

COVID shifts: After the pandemic hit, airlines paid tens of thousands of workers to quit or retire early, but they have added about 118,000 workers since November 2020 and now have 5 percent more employees than before the pandemic, according to Transportation Department figures.

  • Currently, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, consumers can demand a refund of the unused part of their ticket and certain extras that they might have paid to the airline, such as fees for checking a bag or getting a seat assignment.
  • Airlines often try to persuade consumers to accept a travel voucher instead of a refund.

What they’re saying: In a statement, Airlines for America – the principal trade group for America’s carriers – argued that airlines have little incentive to intentionally delay or cancel flights.

  • “Carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control and continue working diligently to improve operational reliability,” including hiring more workers and reducing their schedules, the group said.
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