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Airlines May Soon Have to Pay Passengers for Delayed or Canceled Flights

If you’re flying to or from destinations like the European Union (E.U.) or Canada and your flight gets delayed or canceled, you’re covered under strict passenger rights rules entitling you to financial compensation. In the United States, passengers don’t currently have the same legal protections, but the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hoping to change that. 

The DOT just announced “plans to launch a new rulemaking” that will require airlines to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or cancelled because of reasons within the airline’s control (such as mechanical issues or crew staffing). Stranded passengers could receive coverage for expenses incurred due to the delay including meals, hotels, taxis, and rebooking costs. 

“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.” 

These rules would not apply when flight disruptions are due to a reason outside of the airline’s control, such as bad weather.

Man waiting with rolling luggage, looking up at departure board at an airport
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Most major U.S. airlines voluntarily offer these reimbursements—last year, the DOT unveiled an interactive airline customer service tool that helps flyers find out what they are entitled to if their flight is delayed or cancelled, and many airlines were pressured into increasing the compensation offered. The DOT now wants to make these voluntary reimbursements into law to give flyers more protection.

As part of the new rules proposal, the DOT is publishing a new site, FlightRights.gov, and expanding its airline customer service dashboard to show if additional compensation, such as cash, miles or vouchers are offered to passengers on delayed/cancelled flights.

Biden wants to push airlines to offer more than just a refund if a flight is cancelled, saying that if the cancellation or delay was within the airline’s control, “You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”

Biden hopes that by holding airlines accountable for delays and cancellations, the number of disrupted flights will decrease. He pointed to a study that found that after the E.U. required airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays, the number of flight delays decreased. 

The White House did not give a firm date as to when these new rules will be proposed, only saying “later this year.”

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