The air transport industry has criticised the US government’s plan to require airlines to compensate passengers for some flight delays and cancellations.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents some 300 airlines worldwide, said on 9 May that a compensation proposal introduced by the Biden Administration would not benefit customers nor lead to improved airline operations – but would push airfares higher.
“Airlines work hard to get their passengers to their destinations on time and do their best to minimise the impacts of any delays,” IATA director general Willie Walsh says. “Airlines already have financial incentives to get their passengers to their destination as planned. Managing delays and cancellations is very costly for airlines.”
“The added layer of expense that this regulation will impose will not create a new incentive, but it will have to be recouped – which is likely to have an impact on ticket prices,” adds Walsh.
In addition, the rule “could raise unrealistic expectations among travellers that are unlikely to be met”, IATA says.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) on 8 May proposed requiring airlines to provide certain accommodations to passengers affected by flight delays and cancellations caused by factors within airlines’ control. The agency said such rules would better protect airline passengers and prompt carriers to improve operational reliability.
The plan is the latest in a series of moves by the DOT aimed addressing what regulators view as anti-consumer airline practices.
But delays due to inclement weather, for example, are not covered by the proposed regulation. And according to the Federal Aviation Administration, about 63% of disruptions this year have been due to weather.
“While the DOT carefully notes that airlines will only be responsible for compensating passengers for delays and cancellations for which the airline is deemed responsible, severe weather and other issues can have knock-on effects for days or even weeks later, at which point it can be difficult [or] impossible to isolate a single causal factor,” IATA says.
A4A, which represents most major US airlines, echoes that sentiment, saying, “One of the biggest impacts on flight operations is weather, and in 2022, more than half of flight cancellations were caused by extreme weather.”
“Carriers have taken responsibility for challenges within their control and continue working diligently to improve operational reliability,” A4A says, without specifically addressing the proposed rule. “This includes launching aggressive, successful hiring campaigns for positions across the industry and reducing schedules, notably in the busy Northeast region, in response to the FAA’s staffing shortages.”
“Aviation is a highly integrated activity involving a number of different partners, each of whom has a vital role in ensuring the smooth operation of the air transport system,” adds IATA’s Walsh. “Instead of singling out airlines as this proposal most assuredly does, the Biden Administration should be working toward ensuring a fully funded FAA, a fully staffed controller workforce, and completing the roll-out of the decades-delayed FAA NextGen air traffic control modernisation programme.”
The DOT under president Joe Biden has taken a stronger stance against perceived anti-consumer practices by US airlines. In 2022 it rolled out a website – flightrights.gov – that specifies each large US airline’s voluntary “customer service commitments”. The website shows, for instance, which carriers provide free guaranteed adjacent seating for families, and specifies, by airline, compensation and rebooking practices.
The DOT has also proposed a rule seeking to require airlines to notify passengers affected by cancellations that they are entitled to a ticket refunds. Another proposed DOT rule would require airlines and online travel agencies to more-prominently disclose fees, such as for baggage and flight changes.