Airlines vastly improve their services to customers affected by cancellations

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Five U.S. airlines have committed to rebooking passengers on another airline free of charge if they can't provide same-day re-accommodation.
Five U.S. airlines have committed to rebooking passengers on another airline free of charge if they can't provide same-day re-accommodation. Photo Credit: Sergey Furtaev/Shutterstock

Airlines have made numerous consumer-friendly changes to their customer service plans ahead of the DOT's launch on Friday of an online dashboard that compares the services airlines offer when they are responsible for flight delays and cancellations.

All of the changes were made after DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg sent an Aug. 18 letter to airline CEOs informing them of the pending dashboard and urging them to upgrade their customer service before the tool goes live, senior administration officials said. 

"There really is a night-and-day difference between the commitments the airlines were making before secretary Buttigieg sent the letter and the commitments that they are making today," said one official. 

The dashboard, which will be housed within the DOT's Aviation Consumer Protection website, will feature two charts, one displaying the commitments the 10 largest airlines have made to customers in cases of controllable flight cancellations and the other displaying their commitments in cases of controllable flight delays. 

A delay or cancellation is controllable when it is caused by an airline, rather than by an issue such as weather or a security concern. For example, delays caused by staffing shortages or mechanical problems are defined as controllable. 

Rebooking, meal vouchers, hotel stays

The 10 largest U.S. airlines are American, Delta, United, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant and Hawaiian. Each chart will detail those airlines' commitments in five areas:

• Rebooking for free within the airline's own network.
• Rebooking for free on another airline.
• Providing meals or cash vouchers for cancellations or delays of more than three hours.
• Providing complimentary hotel accommodations for overnight delays or cancellations.
• Providing complimentary ground transportation to and from a hotel.

Administration officials said that prior to Buttigieg's letter to airlines, only one carrier, Southwest, was formally committing, in writing, to rebook passengers at no cost within its own network. Now each of the 10 carriers except Allegiant are making that commitment. 

They also said none of the airlines were committing in writing to rebooking customers on another airline free of charge if they can't provide same-day re-accommodation. Now American, Delta, United, JetBlue and Hawaiian have made that commitment. (Hawaiian has made the commitment for cancellations only, not delays.)

Similarly, prior to the Buttigieg letter, no carriers were committing in writing to provide meals for delayed or canceled passengers. Now all but Allegiant do.

The story is much the same for hotels, where enforceable commitments to provide either lodging or lodging vouchers have gone from zero to eight, with Allegiant and Frontier being the lone holdouts.

And when it comes to free transport, none of the carriers had made such a commitment in writing prior to Aug. 18, an administration official said. Now all but Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit have. 

Buttigieg has faced criticism for lack of enforcement against airlines for alleged violations of refund policies during the pandemic, among other issues. The DOT says it will take a tough stance on these new commitments. 

"The department will hold airlines accountable if they fail to provide the promised service," the DOT said in a prepared statement.

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