US airlines must compensate stranded passengers for flight delays or cancellations – Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to introduce new compensation rules for airline passengers affected by flight delays or cancellations. The rules would require airlines to pay affected passengers in addition to refunds if the carrier is at fault for the disruption.

Officials say that could involve paying for meals and hotels in the event travelers get stranded. If implemented, it would be the first such measure in the United States.

On Monday, Mr. Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the next set of rules at a White House press conference.

It comes just weeks after Mr. Biden confirmed he will run for re-election in 2024, and just before the peak tourist season in the summer. Speaking with the slogan ‘Staying Airline Responsible’, Mr Buttigieg said the new regulations are intended to ensure passengers don’t have to pay bills if an airline is held responsible for travel disruptions.

“This rule would propose, for the first time in U.S. history, to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels and rebooking in the event that the airline caused significant flight cancellations or delays,” Buttigieg said in a statement.

The rules will also seek to determine what constitutes a “controllable cancellation or delay” that is the fault of the carrier.

According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, delays caused by airlines can include issues with maintenance or crew, aircraft cleaning, baggage loading or refueling. Some airlines already offer travel credits or coupons for delayed or canceled flights, but the new rules will force passengers to make compensation, including refunds, mandatory for all.

The announcement is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to intervene on behalf of consumers on thorny issues, including so-called resort fees and airline seating policies.

Last summer, the Department of Transportation launched an online panel comparing the compensation policies of individual US-based airlines to pressure companies to offer more for their customers.

In response, many major US airlines have volunteered to provide meals and hotel accommodation to customers stranded due to delays under the airline’s control.

However, according to the Department of Transportation’s dashboard, no airline in the United States offers cash compensation to passengers stranded for more than three hours as part of their official policy.

In response to Monday’s announcement, Airlines for America, which represents America’s largest carriers, said more than half of flight cancellations in 2022 and 2023 were due to “inclement weather” or out of control problems.

In a statement to Reuters, they added that airlines “have no incentive to delay or cancel flights and are doing everything in their power to ensure flights depart and arrive on time, but Safety is always a top priority.” The current situation in the United States regarding airline passenger compensation is much less generous than elsewhere in the world.

This includes the European Union and the UK, which claim cash compensation of up to €600 ($660; £523) per passenger in the event of delays or cancellations due to the carrier.

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