USA TODAY US Edition
We’re pushing to make flight experience better
Pete Buttigieg Secretary of Transportation
Every day, nearly 3 million people step onto an airplane in the United States. Some are setting out on the trip of a lifetime; others are on a weekly commute. We depend on airlines to get us to vacations, weddings, job interviews and other events that often become some of the most memorable in our lives. And our economy depends on them, too. When you board a flight, you count on that airline to provide the service you paid for.
In 2021, when President Joe Biden took office during the pandemic, the biggest concern around our nation’s airlines was whether they would survive – and, if they did, how many years or even decades it would take for them to recover. But President Biden acted to restore this economy swiftly, and demand came back faster than many thought possible. And as we know, some U.S. airlines have struggled to meet that demand, resulting, at times, in unacceptable numbers of cancellations and delays.
The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of hiring more air traffic controllers to keep up with growing demand.
Since last summer, we have seen real improvements. This year, cancellation rates have stayed under 2%. But demand this summer will again put enormous pressure on the system, and we must take deliberate action to make sure the progress continues.
Airlines need to improve performance and customer service
That’s why the U.S. Department of Transportation is pressing airlines to continue improving performance and customer service, while we’re also working collaboratively wherever we can, supporting improvements to help the air industry reduce congestion and increase capacity.
In New York, we’ve taken steps to allow airlines to use larger planes with more seats at lower frequencies, which means they can move more passengers, but with less congestion.
In Florida, where commercial space launches now happen frequently enough to affect airline schedules, we’re engaging the space sector to keep launch windows clear of peak travel times.
The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of hiring more air traffic controllers to keep up with growing demand, and also recently activated 169 new, more efficient flight paths that will save time and money.
In short, the Department of Transportation is doing its part. But airlines need to do theirs as well.
From August through February, the airline industry’s own data showed that airlines caused a third of all cancellations, the largest factor besides weather, and far higher than in years past. When that happens, we are here to enforce passenger rights and hold airlines accountable.
To date, we’ve helped air travelers get more than $1 billion in refunds from canceled flights. We’ve secured enforceable agreements from almost all major U.S. airlines to provide free rebooking, guaranteed meals and hotel vouchers when they are responsible for major delays. And we have proposed a series of rules that would require airlines to be transparent about hidden fees for things such as extra bags or being seated next to your children.
Airlines would be required to compensate passengers for canceled flights
And we recently initiated new rules that would for the first time require airlines to compensate passengers, cover meals and hotels and provide free rebooking when they have caused a major delay or cancellation. Too often, when your flight gets canceled or delayed, you end up paying the cost – in terms of ground transportation, food, lodging and your valuable time. When that happens for reasons within an airline’s control, the airline should be prepared to provide compensation.
If you’re planning to fly this summer, you can check out our Airline Customer Service Dashboard for information on which airlines already offer compensation in cash, miles or vouchers – and which ones don’t. And if you run into a problem – like an airline denying you a refund or failing to keep its promises – you can file a complaint with us.
Since the day President Biden took office, we have worked to keep American aviation in the air. In 2021, during the pandemic, we saved airlines from going under and kept aviation workers from losing their jobs. In 2022, when airlines were struggling to meet the renewed surge in demand, we stood by travelers, and got airlines to raise the bar for customer service and consumer protection.
In 2023 and beyond, we’re focusing not just on recovering from the past few years, but also preparing for the next few decades.
America is the country that ushered in the aviation age. And today, Americans ought to have the best aviation system in the world. We’re doing our part to deliver that.