US airline rules need 'refresh,' transport chief says

New regulations proposed could be biggest expansion of passenger protection in years



Photo: AP
Photo: AP

By Reuters

Published: Tue 9 Aug 2022, 9:15 AM

Last updated: Tue 9 Aug 2022, 9:24 AM

The US approach to regulating airlines and ensuring passengers are properly treated needs improvements, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Monday.

"We've been due for a refresh on a lot of our rules toward airlines and when you get it right, the entire system is better off-- certainly passengers are better off," Buttigieg told Reuters.

"[Airlines] have a responsibility to take good care of passengers and we have a responsibility to hold them accountable."

Last week, the US Transportation Department (USDOT) proposed rules to strengthen airline passenger protection, and require airlines to provide vouchers that do not expire when passengers are unable to fly-- for pandemic reasons.

He said that the rule could be the biggest expansion of passenger protections in years.

He also plans to finalize a new rule proposed in July 2021, that would require passenger airlines to refund fees for bags that are significantly delayed,as well as for services like onboard Wi-Fi that do not work.

Last month, the USDOT warned that it might prohibit airlines from charging extra fees to allow young children to sit next to accompanying family members.

According to the Transportation Secretary, US airlines were improving in terms of performance, since flight woes this year led to tens of thousands of flights being cancelled-- but they had more to do. Airlines over the weekend cancelled about 3,000 US flights, as bad weather affected air traffic.

He urged airlines to set more realistic scheduling, boost staffing to improve performance, and rejected suggestions from airlines that air traffic control staffing is to blame.

"But I think you can tell that they are not there yet," he said of airlines.

"I think this summer provided a lot of reminders of why customers expect our department to have their back."

He noted that the US government completed 10 airline investigations, and is pursuing enforcement actions. Last week's proposal would also codify USDOT's long-standing interpretation that failing to provide refunds when an airline cancels, or significantly changes, a US flight constitutes an unfair practice.

"We're untying our own hands with the update on unfair and deceptive practices," Buttigieg said.

Airlines for America, a trade group, noted recently that US airlines have also trimmed their summer capacity by 16 per cent and adjusted their staffing models to account for the time it takes to hire and train new employees.

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