U.S. Department of Transportation Debuts Airline Compensation Dashboard

Marlene Goldman, Executive Editor
Mid-sized passanger airplane flying above clouds.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a summer fraught with flight cancellations, with 22.9% of U.S. carrier flights delayed between June 1 and Aug. 30, passengers now have a new tool to determine what compensations each airline will offer. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Sept. 1 launched its dashboard detailing the types of accommodations that airlines are committed to providing passengers in the event of a delay or cancellation that is within a carrier’s control, though they are not beholden to these in cases out of their control, such as weather or air traffic control issues.

“Passengers deserve transparency and clarity on what to expect from an airline when there is a cancellation or disruption,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “This dashboard collects that information in one place so travelers can easily understand their rights, compare airline practices and make informed decisions. The Department will continue to support passengers and to hold airlines responsible for adhering to their customer obligations.”

While some of these compensations were in effect prior to the dashboard’s release, passengers can now compare what each airline offers, which can help consumers decide which airline to fly. Many of the main U.S. carriers, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have all rewritten their policies so passengers can more easily understand how they are protected. The new tool offers information not only about accommodations airlines will provide, but also meal vouchers, ground transportation and rebooking commitments.

Delta Air Lines is one that rewrote policy explanations, though already had compensations in place.

“Second only to safety, Delta’s priority is to do right by our customers when delays or cancellations happen, regardless of the cause,” Drake X. Castaneda, a spokesperson in their Corporate Communications division, said. “The categories DOT’s dashboard lays out are aligned with our existing customer commitment, and we’ve updated some of our language to be explicitly clear about the services and amenities we provide customers when they are inconvenienced. Our focus remains on providing industry leading operational reliability and customer service across our operation.”

United also emphasized compensations were already in place, though the airline did change its meal voucher policies and now offers a meal voucher after a three-hour controllable delay. Previously, it was four hours. According to a spokesperson, “What’s really different is the way that those policies are now written – now they are much more clear and transparent for our customers.”

DOT Takes Action

The creation of the dashboard is one of the many steps the DOT is taking to improve customer service provided to travelers. The DOT will hold airlines accountable if they fail to provide the promised services and has also provided direct links to airlines’ customer service plans on its Aviation Consumer Protection website.

According to the DOT, Secretary Buttigieg wrote a letter to airline CEOs in August informing them that DOT would publish the dashboard before Labor Day and urged the airlines to improve their customer service plans before the release. As a result, all but one of the 10 largest U.S. airlines made changes to their plans to improve services provided to passengers when their flights are canceled or delayed because of an airline issue – now nine of the 10 guarantee meals and eight of the 10 guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes the delay or cancellation.

In addition to the dashboard, the DOT recently proposed a rule to make it easier for passengers to collect airline refunds. The DOT is currently collecting comments on the rule that would ensure the following:

  • Require airlines to proactively inform passengers that they have a right to receive a refund when a flight is canceled or significantly changed.
  • Define a significant change and cancellation that would entitle a consumer to a refund.
  • Require airlines to provide non-expiring vouchers or travel credits when people can’t travel because they have COVID-19 or other communicable diseases.
  • Require airlines that receive significant government assistance related to a pandemic to issue refunds instead of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers when passengers are unable or advised not to travel because of a serious communicable disease.

According to Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, part of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA), Europe’s passenger protection rights, EC261, could be an example for the U.S. with regards to providing refunds in the event of a flight cancelation.

Pawliszyn says EC 261 has proven successful in the EU in terms of improving the quality of air service and eliminating overbooking. The EU market has three times fewer long delays than its U.S. counterpart. “We believe one crucial reason for the difference is the existence of air passenger rights regulation — or lack thereof in the U.S. According to another study, EC261 directly results in 5% fewer delays.”

Reach Drake X. Castaneda at drake.castaneda@delta.com