meIf you had a bad experience flying this summer, know that you were not alone.
More than 5,800 airline complaints were filed last June, an increase of almost 270% compared to the same month in 2019, according to new data from the Department of Transportation (DOT). As analysts predicted, airlines faced staffing shortages, weather issues and pent-up demand for vacation getaways, leading to a spike in cancellations and delays.
Some help is on the way. On Wednesday, several major US airlines, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines, updated their customer service agreements pledging to pay for travelers’ meals and lodging if they delayed or canceled flights due to factors within their control (excluding weather). JetBlue, for example, announced that it will provide $12 meal vouchers and United will provide meal vouchers for the “reasonable cost of a meal at airport food vendors.”
The timing couldn’t be better: 12.7 million people are expected to fly out of US airports between Thursday and Monday, according to data from Hopper, a travel booking app.
“We’re still seeing huge travel demand like we saw over the summer,” says Hayley Berg, chief economist at Hopper, a travel booking app. “Despite cancellation rates reaching 10% and delay rates exceeding 30% on particular days, travelers have proven resilient.”
What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled
The DOT urges travelers who experience an air travel issue to first contact their airline or visit a customer service representative at the airport, who can arrange meals and hotel accommodations for stranded passengers, compensate those who they were involuntarily kicked off their flights and help with luggage. problems. However, travelers should remember that they are not entitled to any compensation from airlines if their flight is delayed or canceled due to factors beyond the airline’s control, such as weather, although some airlines may provide vouchers for meals or a room hotel if you asked.
For issues that are not resolved at the airport, travelers can file a formal complaint with the airline by sending them an email or by completing a complaint form on the airline’s website. Travelers can also file a DOT complaint directly by phone or mail. Airlines must acknowledge customer complaints within 30 days and submit written responses within 60 days.
About 29% of all complaints in June related to flight issues, including cancellations, delays or other schedule changes, while about 24% of complaints related to refunds.
read more: Air travel is in chaos right now. What to know before you fly
What officials hope to do about travel delays
Ahead of the Labor Day travel rush, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter to US airline executives that “the level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer is unacceptable.”
DOT plans to post a new online dashboard on September 2 where passengers can find “easy-to-read comparative summary information” about the different compensation packages passengers are entitled to when delays or cancellations are caused by factors within their control. of the airline. .
The DOT has also proposed a number of new rules to better protect travelers, such as requiring airlines to reimburse travelers if their domestic flight is delayed three hours or more or if their international flight is delayed more than six hours or plus. Under the proposal, travelers would also be eligible for a refund if the departure or arrival airport is changed, if additional connections are added, or if they are downgraded to a lower seat class. These new rules could be finalized after a 90-day comment period.
Although these initiatives would significantly expand the rights of travelers, some warn that it may not be enough.
“Travellers are obviously frustrated,” says Berg. “But the real solution is to address the root causes of outages by solving all the pieces of infrastructure instead of just patching the symptoms.”
When travel can slow down
Although Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer and thus the busiest travel season, flight disruptions are likely to continue until airline schedules return to full capacity and the staffing back to pre-pandemic levels, says Berg. That could be a while.
Airlines are operating at or below 95% of the capacity they flew in 2019 as they recover from losses from the pandemic, staffing shortages and high fuel costs. Several airlines, including Delta Airlines, American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, have significantly modified their number of flights to avoid massive disruptions.
But historically, Berg says, travel tends to slow down during the fall months, between September and November. “We expect that while outage rates are likely to be higher than in previous years, overall there should be fewer outages in the coming months.”
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