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.
Travelers United wants the Department of Transportation (DOT) to hold airlines responsible for maintaining their schedules. If airlines were required to fly within two to three hours of their normally scheduled times, passengers could book connecting flights on other airlines with less fear of missed airline connections.
Airlines must assume responsibility for their published schedules
While airlines in their contracts of carriage assume no responsibility for arrival and departure on schedule, their delayed flights have big financial consequences for passengers who face change fees and cancellation fees in addition to extra airfare for missed airline connections they must deal with through no fault of their own.
- Case #1 — International flights. A passenger flies from Omaha to JFK to connect to a flight on a low-cost/budget carrier. 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 flight.
- 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. The passenger, if they miss the connections, 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 is the beginning of 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, rarely will the airline responsible for the cancellation pay for overnight accommodations and extra meals caused by their cancellations.
Airlines should be responsible for missed connections
These kinds of incidents happen frequently, according to anecdotal stories and complaints. Airlines claim no responsibilities for any delays or missed airline connections. And passengers have to make the best they can of the situation caused by the airlines. Even if the airlines provide accommodations and a paltry dining stipend, passengers may miss cruises, tour groups, family events, and meetings.
Airlines should be held accountable for their delayed flights and any resulting missed airline connections. Passengers should not be penalized through no fault of their own for missed connections caused by the failure of airlines to operate according to public schedules. Airlines should be held responsible.
Here is the European delayed flight rule
In Europe, airlines are required to stick to their public schedules within three hours. Organizations like AirHelp.com can help any traveler 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$290).
- If the intra-European flight is more than 1,500 km and more than three hours late, the fine is €400 (about US$460).
- If the flight is outside of the EU and between 1,500 and 3,500 km and more than three hours late, the fine is €400 (about US$460).
- If the flight is outside of the EU and more than 3,500 km and more than three hours late, the fine is €600 (about US$700).
These delay rules apply to only European Union airline flights from outside of 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 change to the US regulations with both Congress and DOT 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 11 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.