Biden Proposes Flight Compensation Mandates

(Photo Credit: Phil Mosley/Unsplash)

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Comedian John Mulaney has a bit where he asks a Delta boarding crew if he can get on a plane to go home. They say, “NO! It’s delayed nine hours,” spit in his face, give him a meal voucher that doesn’t work, and eventually frame him for murder. While hyperbolic, is it really that far off from the truth?

On Monday, the Biden administration proposed curbing those annoyances by requiring airlines to provide travelers with cash compensation, hotel, food, and transportation accommodations in the event of lengthy delays or cancellations that were within the carrier’s control.

You’re Grounded

Many airlines operating in the US already have policies in place that provide customers with compensation if a flight is delayed for more than three hours. But that’s generally restricted to cases where the airline is at fault – a lack of pilots, not enough flight staff, or mechanical issues with the plane. They can’t control the weather, so don’t expect to pay for it.

But what airlines offer right now are good faith measures to retain customers, not a legal obligation. According to the US Department of Transportation Airline Customer Service Dashboard, every major carrier in the country will rebook passengers on the same airline at no additional cost, most pay for hotel stays, and none offer additional cash compensation:

  • In 2022, more than 2% of US flights were canceled, according to the DOT. That may not sound like a lot, but it actually equates to nearly 200,000 flights. Looking ahead to the summer, the Federal Aviation Administration expects a 45% increase in East Coast flight delays compared to last summer, fueled by pilot and air traffic controller shortages.
  • At a press conference Monday afternoon, Biden argued that after the UK, European Union, and Canada passed bills legally requiring carriers to provide these compensations beyond just refunding tickets, the number of flight delays went down.

“Last holiday season, travelers were stranded for days,” Biden said. “Many missed family gatherings, spent Christmas at an airport, waited countless hours on line or on the phone because there weren’t enough pilots, there weren’t enough personnel, that’s unacceptable.”

We are Family: This isn’t the only issue the Biden administration is tackling with air travel. Early this year, the White House proposed legislation that would guarantee families could sit next to each other without additional fees. Also, last fall, the DOT proposed legislation mandating airlines show extra fees like baggage, internet, and seat changes on their sites before customers purchase tickets. At this rate, it won’t be long before airlines stop framing their customers for murder, too.