Connection consequences caused by airline delays should be the responsibility of the airlines.
Recently, a study using DOT data showed that airline delays that cause missed airline connections have been increasing at an alarming number of airports across the country. A normal question Travelers United receives is whether or not these delays are really problematic and do we hear about the delays. While simple delays in themselves may be an inconvenience for some travelers, the consequences of missed airline connections are enormous.
Recently, many airlines have had total meltdowns regarding their flight schedules.
All airlines have struggled to provide passengers seat availability as they began to recover from the pandemic. However, their efforts have fallen short. Passengers often have seats, but miss their connections. Unfortunately, the DOT has no requirement that airlines maintain any semblance of schedules. No one holds the airlines’ feet to the fire through compensation to passengers or fines to airlines.
Travelers United wants the Department of Transportation (DOT) to hold airlines responsible for maintaining their schedules. Airlines should be required to fly within two to three hours of their normally scheduled domestic times. Then passengers could book connecting flights on other airlines with less fear of missed airline connections.
Airlines in their contracts of carriage assume no responsibility for arrival and departure on schedule. Their delayed flights have big financial consequences for passengers. Travelers face change fees and cancellation fees in addition to extra airfare for missed airline connections. They must deal with these fees through no fault of their own. Plus, they miss their meetings, weddings, funerals, and other family events.
Here are some examples:
- Case #1 — International flights. A passenger flies from Omaha to JFK to connect to a low-cost/budget carrier flight. If the incoming flight from Omaha lands at JFK on time, there is no problem. However, if the incoming flight is late, it can cause missed airline connections. Not only does the passenger miss the low-cost carrier flight (or virtually any international flight, for that matter), they will need to pay for overnight accommodations at the very least and then fly onward if there is space available on the next day’s flight. In some cases, travelers will forfeit their transatlantic flights.
- Case #2 — A passenger on a domestic flight from a small city to Chicago or Denver is supposed to transfer to a connecting flight on another airline to a vacation destination. If the incoming flight is late, the operating carrier is not held liable in any way. If they miss the connections, the passenger must fend for themselves — again, through no fault of their own other than looking for the biggest bargain.
- Case #3 — A late-afternoon trans-continental flight on a carrier is canceled. If this flight begins a multiple-segment trip, the connections are canceled and the passengers are faced with paying for an overnight stay at an airport hotel. Hopefully, they will be booked on the next available flight to their destination aboard their airline. However, the airline responsible for the cancellation may pay for overnight accommodations and extra meals caused by their cancellations. But you have to ask.
Airlines should be responsible for missed connections
According to recent headline stories, these incidents frequently happen and result in record consumer complaints. Airlines claim no responsibility for any delays or missed airline connections. And DOT has no enforcement provisions for delays or widespread flight disruptions. All an airline legally has to do is post on its website it will provide no assistance or compensation.
Passengers have to do the best they can in the situation caused by the airlines. Airlines may provide accommodations and a paltry dining stipend. But, passengers miss cruises, tour groups, family events, and meetings.
Airlines should be held accountable for delayed flights and any missed airline connections. Passengers should not be penalized for something that’s no fault of their own. Missed connections caused by the failure of airlines to operate according to public schedules should require compensation. Airlines should be held responsible.
Here is the European delayed flight rule
In Europe, airlines must stick to their public schedules within three hours. Organizations like AirHelp.com can help travelers get compensation when their flights are delayed.
- If an intra-European flight up to 1,500 km or less arrives at the gate more than three hours late, passengers are eligible for €250 (about US$250).
- When the intra-European flight is more than 1,500 km and more than three hours late, the fine is €400 (about US$400).
- If the flight is outside of the EU, between 1,500 and 3,500 km, and more than three hours late, the fine is €400 (about US$400).
- If the flight is outside of the EU, is more than 3,500 km and more than three hours late, the fine is €600 (about US$600).
These delay rules apply only to European Union airline flights outside the EU. However, they apply to all airlines operating within the EU. This compensation helps travelers pay for the consequences of missed airline connections and delays.
The US should require airlines to adhere to their schedules just as they do in the EU
Travelers United is discussing a US regulation change with Congress and DOT. We are attempting to institute delay rules similar to those of the EU here in the USA. When airlines had reciprocity agreements, missed connections caused by airline delays were handled by shifting passengers to other airlines. Today, many of the reciprocity agreements are no longer in force. Passengers now need protection for missed airline connections that are no fault of their own. And, airlines should be held to be accountable for maintaining their public schedules.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.