In the United States, this is the start of the Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest travel periods of the year. The huge number of delays commercial air transportation endured this summer portend continued problems for passengers in the days ahead. There is some good news for those taking their chances with the airlines this weekend.
Several major airlines told the U.S. Transportation Department they will provide meals for customers delayed by three hours or more and hotel rooms for passengers who are stranded overnight by issues under the control of the airline. Airlines making the pledge include Alaska, American, Delta, United, Jet Blue, Southwest, and Frontier so far.
Airlines have offered similar help before, but usually at a customer’s request. Now however they’ve made explicit commitments that include reimbursement when they can’t provide a hotel and specific amounts for meals.
If they have any, such commitments are found on airline websites. The American Airlines customer service plan states in part:
Flight delays and cancellations
When your flight is canceled, significantly delayed, or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we’ll rebook you on our next flight with available seats at no additional cost. If no American Airlines flights are available until the next day, we’ll rebook you on one of our partner airlines at no additional cost.
Delays and cancellations caused by us
In cases where a significant delay or cancellation is caused by us, we’ll give you:
- A voucher for an approved hotel with available rooms if you are delayed overnight.
- Transportation to a hotel and back to the airport by hotel shuttle / third-party transportation service, or a transportation voucher.
- Meal vouchers if your delay is 3 or more hours after your scheduled departure.
If we can’t provide you with a voucher for an approved hotel, we’ll reimburse you for reasonable hotel costs. If a hotel shuttle / third-party transportation service isn’t available, or we can’t provide you with a transportation voucher, we’ll reimburse you for reasonable transportation costs.
The changes come after Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said if airlines didn’t do this on their own he’d push forward regulation that would likely have required more than airlines were willing to do.
Airline Customer Service Dashboard
The U.S. Department of Transportation has created a dashboard to ensure the traveling public has easy access to information about services that U.S. airlines provide to mitigate passenger inconveniences when the cause of a cancellation or delay was due to circumstances within the airline’s control. A green check mark on the dashboard means an airline has committed to providing that service or amenity to its customers. A red “x” means the airline has not made that commitment. However, airlines with a red “x” may provide these services and amenities in some instances in their discretion.
When it comes to rebooking passengers on another airline at no additional cost, airlines have various limitations on this that aren’t reflected in the chart above. The rebooking commitment on other airlines, in writing, is something that wasn’t often offered for passengers traveling in economy class and without frequent flyer status.
It is good that these new policies are codified in airline customer service commitments even though airlines had offered some of these protections previously. In May 2022, Delta caused me to miss my connecting flight to Nairobi, Kenya. Delta put me up in a hotel overnight and on another airline the next day at no cost. That treatment was due to having a paid business class ticket and top status in the SkyMiles program. Under the right circumstances, everyone can get this treatment now. It remains to be seen how truthful airlines will be about the cause of delays and cancellations.
In addition to what an airline might offer, I suggest asking for additional compensation such as frequent flyer miles, travel vouchers, and compensation for any other necessary expenses incurred. The worst that can happen is “no”.
Have you had a long delay or cancellation? What compensation did the airline provide?