Major U.S. Airlines Commit To Put You On Another Airline When Long Delays Are Their Fault

For the most part the major U.S. airlines have already offered to pay for lodging and meals during ‘controllable delays’. When your flight goes mechanical and strands you overnight, or the airline cancels your flight due to lack of crew and can’t rebook you until the next day, the majors already provide hotel rooms – although the Biden administration is now taking credit for this.

What’s new, generally speaking, is that several carriers have amended their policies to actually reimburse you when they’re unable to provide you with a room and you book one yourself.

  • This comes at the prodding of the Department of Transportation, under threat of regulation
  • It’s a minor win, not the major one that the Administration and some media sources are portraying
  • And as always the devil is in the details

The new Department of Transportation dashboard comparing customer service policies is live. The idea is a simple place to compare what each airline will do for customers during ‘controllable delays and cancellations’.

  • These policies do not apply in the event of delays outside an airline’s control like weather or air traffic control

  • The dashboard is a quick and easy way to compare policies but completely misses their nuance

  • And they provide a link to each airline’s policies, so you don’t have to Google “[airline] customer service plan” (again, this is modestly helpful but being vastly oversold)

I noted yesterday that United will reimburse up to $200 for hotel when they can’t provide a hotel that they are required to – though you can argue for a higher amount if you can demonstrate that it’s reasonable under the circumstances, but Delta, by contrast, will only give you a travel voucher worth up to $100 if they cannot find you a hotel.

The DOT dashboard completely misses this nuance. They also offer check marks by ‘rebook passenger on another airline at no additional cost’ next to American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United – but the nuance in each airline’s policies is lost.

  • American Airlines says they will only rebook you on another (partner) airline “[i]f no American Airlines flights are available until the next day.”

  • Delta simply says they will do it “[i]f a Delta flight is unavailable,” but they don’t define what unavailable means, offering no timeline. They don’t use the word partner, instead offering the broader “airline with which we have a ticketing agreement” instead. (Partner may mean codeshare or frequent flyer partner, while Delta has a ticketing agreement with other major U.S. airlines that they don’t have deeper partnerships with.)

  • United uses the same “next day” standard as American but requires that you ask for rebooking on a partner airline (so have to know this is an option and prompt for it) which is a step the others do not specify as necessary.

The rebooking commitment on other airlines, in writing, is something that hasn’t consistently been offered especially for passengers traveling in economy class and without frequent flyer status. So that’s another improvement, though again the fine print – like a next day travel requirement – makes it less useful than it might appear in the DOT chart.

What the largest airlines have done, in essence, is adopted a policy that does the minimum to get them a check mark on the DOT website while limiting their exposure. Still, a check mark is better than an X.

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