U.S. Wants Airlines to Compensate Flyers for Delayed, Cancelled Flights

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on May 8, 2023 proposed new rulemaking that would require airlines to compensate passengers whose flights get delayed or canceled, a move it says is part of a two-year-long battle in favor of the consumer.

“When an airline causes a flight cancellation or delay, passengers should not foot the bill,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This rule would, for the first time in U.S. history, propose to require airlines to compensate passengers and cover expenses such as meals, hotels, and rebooking in cases where the airline has caused a cancellation or significant delay.”  

The new rulemaking, which can be read in full here, would make specific the kind of compensation a passenger receives when there are “controllable delays or cancellations,” and would include in that compensation costs for meals, hotels, and rebooking in those situations.   

The announcement hasn’t specified what a “controllable delay or cancellation” means or exactly what that compensation would be, but it did mention that the delays or cancellations would have to be “caused by something within the airline’s control, such as a mechanical issue.”

The DOT also did add new categories to its Commitments for Controllable Cancelations and Controllable Delays dashboard on its website, which could hint at what is to come.

Those new categories include listing what airlines cover costs for rebooking, provide complimentary hotel accommodations and complimentary ground transportation, give cash compensation or travel voucher, and credit frequent flyer miles to a traveler’s account.

Some carriers already provide part of those obligations—all do rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost and all provide a meal or meal cash/voucher when cancellation results in a passenger waiting for 3 hours or more for a new flight.

However, there are some that most carriers do not provide, mainly committing to frequent flyer miles for cancellations (only Alaska does so) and providing cash compensation when a cancellation results in a passenger waiting for 3 hours or more from the scheduled departure time (only Alaska and JetBlue do so).

The rulemaking could make those obligations standard, forcing all airlines, no matter if they are one of the Big Four U.S. carriers or an ultra-lost-cost carrier, to operate the same way when it comes to delays and cancellations.

Flyers traveling to, from, or through the U.S. have seen a significant shift in this kind of compensation and transparency recently. That includes guaranteeing hotel accommodations for stranded passengers (all 10 major U.S. airlines now do so).