US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg blasted airline executives for operational issues that are causing major air transportation disruptions throughout the busy summer travel season.

In response to the problems – stemming partly from airline understaffing in the post-pandemic environment – the DOT is implementing an online scorecard to track airline service levels. The move follows a recent DOT proposal that would provide additional protections to airline passengers in cases of delays or cancellations.

“The level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable,” he wrote in an 18 August letter to the ten largest US airlines.

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Source: Pilar Wolfsteller/FlightGlobal

Passengers shuffle through an underground tunnel at Chicago O’Hare International airport

“In the first six months of 2022, roughly 24% of the domestic flights of US airlines have been delayed and 3.2% have been cancelled. These aren’t just numbers, these are missed birthday parties, graduations, time with loved ones and important meetings.”

The DOT plans on 2 September to launch an “interactive dashboard” where customers can compare airlines’ service levels. It will be “a single venue where they can locate easy-to-read comparative summary information” on each airline.

“When passengers do experience cancellations and delays, they deserve clear and transparent information on the services that your airline will provide, to address the expenses and inconveniences resulting from these disruptions,” he writes. “The information on this dashboard… will be based on commitments that airlines have made to consumers in their customer service plans. The department also intends to provide direct links to airlines’ customer service plans from its website.”

At minimum, the DOT is requesting that airlines provide meal vouchers for passengers who experience delays of 3h or more, and lodging to those whose disrupted itineraries require overnight stays.

“Regardless of the cause of the delays or cancellations, the department expects airlines to provide timely and responsive customer service during and after periods of flight disruptions,” Buttigieg says.

In response to complaints about airline service problems as the industry has ramped up following a two-year slump, the DOT earlier this month proposed strong new consumer protections for airline passengers travelling with both domestic and foreign carriers on scheduled service from, to or within the USA.

That proposal seeks to limit travellers’ financial losses in cases of flight delays or cancellations, no matter the reason. It also would ensure that customers who choose not to travel due to, for example, a pandemic or a doctor’s recommendation, would be entitled to receive their money back for a ticket not flown.

The proposal would bring US standards closer to those introduced by the European Union in 2005. In the EU, delayed passengers are entitled to refunds and in some cases financial compensation, depending on the duration of delays and distance of flights.

But, Buttigieg adds in his 18 August letter, that may not be enough to incentivise airlines to solve all of the issues.

“We are also contemplating options for rulemaking that would further expand the rights of airline passengers who experience disruptions,” he says.