MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: new flight rules could be coming to the U.S.
Almost ten million travelers slammed U.S. airlines over Memorial Day weekend. That’s nearly 350,000 more travelers than the same weekend in 2019—pre-pandemic.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Last year’s travel season saw remarkably high flight cancellations as airlines struggled to find staff, and now President Biden has, in his words, “challenged them to do better.” But what would better look like?
WORLD’s Mary Muncy brings us the story.
MARY MUNCY, REPORTER: Brooke Bruce and Justin Stoltz were stuck on the Denver tarmac for seven hours earlier this year.
BROOKE BRUCE: We were so delayed and the pilots had to be switched out. It was horrible.
They had hoped to be lounging on the beach by that time. Instead, they spent 12 hours in the airport.
BRUCE: It was a whole day of our vacation was gone. And basically they sent us a $25 voucher.
Right now, airlines are only required to refund a ticket if a flight is delayed or canceled. Any other compensation is up to the individual airline and they’re not required to tell passengers what that compensation will be.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg:
PETE BUTTIGIEG: We depend on airlines get us to weddings, vacations, and job interviews that often wind up being some of the most important and memorable events in our lives.
Buttigieg and President Biden proposed new rules last month to require airlines to compensate passengers for what they call “controllable” cancellations or delays.
BIDEN: My administration will propose a historic new rule that will make it mandatory, not voluntary - but mandatory for all U.S. airlines to compensate you with meals, hotels, taxis, ride shares, or rebo- - and rebooking foo- - fees, and cash, miles, and/or travel vouchers whenever they are the ones to blame for the cancellation or delay. And that's all on top of refunding the cost of your ticket.
Europe already has rules like this.
Betty Jackson was stuck in a London airport for nine hours with her husband, her son, and her son’s family.
The airlines had given them a piece of paper before they got to their gate.
BETTY JACKSON: And so then we had enough time that we were killing that then we read it carefully enough. And we're like, is this saying what we think it's saying?
That paper listed what airlines in Europe are required to compensate passengers for delays and cancellations.
JACKSON: And we got this huge refund. I don't even remember how much but it was like, it's EU rules.
In the EU, every person whose flight is delayed by more than three hours has the right to claim some form of compensation and airlines are required to inform passengers of that right.
In the U.S. right now, if a flight is delayed, ten airlines have voluntarily committed to providing meals to passengers and nine have committed to providing hotel accommodations.
But not everyone thinks making that mandatory in the U.S. is a good idea.
KAREN: So this will mean that our airline prices are gonna go up.
This is Karen at the Asheville Regional Airport.
KAREN: We want our airlines to stay in business. And if we want them to stay in business, they need to make a profit.
But even with the compensation rules, domestic flights in Europe are typically cheaper than in the U.S.
There are a lot of factors at play, but research from the Fraser Institute suggests competition is one of the biggest.
Europe has an “open sky” policy meaning any carrier from any country can pick up and drop off passengers anywhere in the EU, so airlines and even airports are competing for traffic.
Right now, the U.S. doesn’t have that.
KAREN: if they have to, you know, house and feed a whole plane load of people, it's gonna, they're gonna they're gonna patter tickets to provide for that.
Airlines have not said how they will cover any extra costs or if there will be much extra cost.
The trade association Airlines for America told me that most cancellations are for things outside of an airline’s control, so they wouldn’t have to pay for accommodations.
BUTTIGIEG: Weather remains the top cause of airline delays but staffing and other issues under airlines responsibilities meant that last summer we saw unacceptable rates of delays and cancellations even on blue sky days.
Airlines for America says U.S. airlines have voluntarily been hiring more workers and reducing flight schedules to try to keep travel smooth.
Even with the high number of travelers over Memorial Day weekend, Flight Aware told me less than one percent of flights were canceled—that’s only about 500 flights, about the same as in 2019.
But last year, nearly five percent of flights were canceled on one A that weekend and nearly 3,000 flights were canceled over the whole weekend.
For now, the Biden administration has launched a website that lists which airlines compensate more than the minimum ticket price.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy.
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