US NEWS: The US wants airlines to increase aid for stranded and delayed passengers

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called on the top 10 U.S. airlines to do more to help stranded and delayed passengers and warned that the government may introduce new regulations.

In letters to major, regional and low-cost carriers released Friday, Buttigieg said the department (USDOT) is “considering options” to write new rules “that would further expand the rights of air travelers.”

He called on airlines to review customer service plans to “ensure that (they) guarantee adequate facilities and services to help passengers with the expense and inconvenience of delays and cancellations.” He also asked airlines to “at a minimum provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and accommodation for passengers who have to wait overnight at the airport due to disruptions under the carrier’s control.”

Some US airlines provide meals or hotel rooms if they cancel or delay flights if they are at fault for the disruption, but they are not required by law to do so. Passengers are often unaware of airline policies.

Major airlines and an airline trade group did not immediately comment.

Buttigieg said in his letter that he appreciates the steps airlines have taken to improve service, but added that “the level of disruption that Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable.”

He said that in the first six months, “roughly 24% of U.S. airline domestic flights were delayed and 3.2% were canceled.” Complaints from airline passengers to the USDOT have soared this year.

By Sept. 2, USDOT plans to create an “interactive dashboard” for air travelers to compare “services or amenities provided by each of the major U.S. airlines when cancellations or delays were caused by circumstances within the airline’s control.”

Buttigieg and major U.S. airlines have clashed frequently this summer over who is responsible for tens of thousands of flight delays and cancellations. He met with airline CEOs virtually ahead of the busy July 4 travel weekend to push them to perform better, lay out more realistic plans and say the airline industry is largely responsible for the travel woes.

Buttigieg has faced pressure from US lawmakers who want him to do more to force airlines to provide better service.

Airlines note that they have voluntarily reduced the number of flights to improve service, increase recruitment and argue that insufficient air traffic control personnel routinely affect flights.

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

USDOT is drafting a series of new airline consumer rules, including a requirement for refunds for delayed bags. In June, the agency warned it may ban airlines from charging extra to allow young children to sit next to accompanying family members.

Buttigieg last told that U.S. airline rules needed a “refresh,” noting that the USDOT had completed 10 investigations into airline passenger refunds and was continuing enforcement actions. He also proposed codifying the USDOT’s longstanding interpretation that failure to provide refunds when an airline cancels or significantly changes a U.S. flight constitutes an unfair practice.

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