Real change means making these amenities part of the contracts of carriage. Now, amenities for canceled flights may include meals and hotel overnights rather than only “Tough luck.”
It is almost like magic, but airlines are now paying attention to passengers they have spurned in the past when flights are canceled. Amenities are now being promised to airline travelers for flights canceled by airlines. Unfortunately, these amenities are being added to the airlines’ customer service plans but not to airlines’ contracts of carriage (except Delta Air Lines). Nothing is legally promised. In the past, the Department of Transportation (DOT) claimed that it did not have permission from Congress to jawbone airlines to change their policies.
After only a modest statement by the DOT Secretary, the airline world got the message — treat passengers like human beings when flights are canceled. It is a shame that it took an entire summer and more than a hundred thousand complaints to shame DOT into action. Complaints came from news media, social media, and DOT’s complaint system. NOTE: These “rules” only add to the “customer service plans.” No force of law is involved; only that the best efforts are attempted (except for Delta Air Lines).
The DOT must insist that these new customer service agreements be made an enforceable part of the contract of carriage. Otherwise, they are merely a public relations ploy. This shifting of the customer service plans to the contract of carriage is a long-time goal of Travelers United. Delta Air Lines is the only major carrier that includes these flight cancellation provisions in its contract of carriage. All other airlines present this as part of their “customer service plan.”
Of course, airlines have lots of wiggle room before handing out amenities. Plus, these benefits are only added to the legal contract of carriage by Delta Air Lines — no other major airline.
Any “force majeure” out of the airlines’ control does not kick off these amenities. Only problems under airline control bring these amenities into effect. Many of those with airline understaffing flight crews and airport personnel have been guilty of such behavior. Plus, the passenger has to ask for assistance. But, the clarifications and new presentation are welcome as a step in the right direction.
Here are the American Airlines rules. These are part of the customer service plan, not the legal contract of carriage.
Note the undefined term “significant delay.” Also, note that these amenities begin with flight cancellation. Also, note that there is no amount listed for meal vouchers and that hotel promises include “reasonable” hotel costs and transportation costs.
Delays and cancellations caused by us
In cases where a significant delay or cancellation is caused by us, we’ll give you:
- A voucher for an approved hotel with available rooms if you are delayed overnight.
- Transportation to a hotel and back to the airport by hotel shuttle / third-party transportation service, or a transportation voucher.
- Meal vouchers if your delay is 3 or more hours after your scheduled departure.
If we can’t provide you with a voucher for an approved hotel, we’ll reimburse you for reasonable hotel costs. If a hotel shuttle / third-party transportation service isn’t available, or we can’t provide you with a transportation voucher, we’ll reimburse you for reasonable transportation costs.
Delta Air Lines spells out its force majeure exceptions in its contract of carriage:
Except as provided above, Delta shall have no liability if the flight cancellation, diversion or delay was due to force majeure. As used in this rule, “force majeure” means actual, threatened or reported:
(1) Weather conditions or acts of God;
(2) Riots, civil unrest, embargoes, war, hostilities, or unsettled international conditions;
(3) Strikes, work stoppages, slowdowns, lockout, or any other labor-related dispute;
(4) Government regulation, demand, directive or requirement;
(5) Shortages of labor, fuel, or facilities; or
(6) Any other condition beyond Delta’s control or any fact not reasonably foreseen by Delta.
The Delta Air Lines Contract of Carriage only provides affected passengers, when accommodations are not available, with a voucher that may be applied to future travel on Delta equal in value to the contracted hotel rate, up to US$100. For other services available check the Contract of Carriage RULE 19: FLIGHT DELAYS/CANCELLATIONS.
United Airlines Customer Service Plan with new passenger amenities.
Note that this Customer Service Plan has lots of wiggle room. This not a legal obligation. It is not part of the contract of carriage. There are plenty of phrases like “available” and “you can ask.” “We’ll get you on the next flight we have with available seats in the same cabin you’re traveling in at no additional cost. If your cancellation or delay is caused by something within our control and a United flight is unavailable until the next day, you can ask us and we will book you on a partner airline’s flight at no additional cost if they have seats available in the same cabin for our customers.”
Providing you assistance if your flight is delayed or canceled
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, travel plans are disrupted. When that happens, we’re committed to giving you good customer service while we work to get you where you need to go as quickly as we can. Here are some of the things we will do if your flight is delayed or canceled:
- We’ll give you the most up-to-date information about your rebooking options through united.com, the United app, at airport kiosks, or through our airport and contact center agents.
- We’ll get you on the next flight we have with available seats in the same cabin you’re traveling in at no additional cost. If your cancellation or delay is caused by something within our control and a United flight is unavailable until the next day, you can ask us and we will book you on a partner airline’s flight at no additional cost if they have seats available in the same cabin for our customers.
- For cancellations or delays within our control, like mechanical issues, that result in your waiting for more than three hours, we’ll give you a digital or printed meal voucher. This voucher can be used for the reasonable cost of a meal at airport food vendors. If you don’t automatically get one, just ask us.
- When a delay or cancellation within our control, like a mechanical issue, keeps you away from your home city and you need to stay overnight, we’ll give you digital or printed hotel vouchers that can be used at a partner hotel. If we’re unable to offer you a hotel voucher because a room at one of our hotel partners is not available, and you find and pay for a different place to stay, you can submit your receipt to our Customer Care Team, and we’ll reimburse you up to $200. We will provide a higher reimbursement amount if you demonstrate that a reasonable cost for a hotel is higher than $200 for that location.
- If you stay the night at a hotel nearby because of a delay or cancellation within our control, and the hotel doesn’t provide a shuttle or ride from the airport, we’ll give you a voucher for the reasonable cost of a ride to the hotel.
If we’ve offered you any of these services, you’re free to turn us down. But if you do, we won’t pay you back for any meals, hotels, or other services you choose to find and pay for yourself. If you are outside the U.S., relevant local laws may also apply.
Southwest Airlines Customer Service Plan dealing with Southwest Airlines-initiated flight delays, cancelations
During flight delays that are within our control of three (3) or more hours and/or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are within our control that result in a wait of three (3) or more hours for a flight at the airport, we will provide a meal voucher upon request at the airport for participating vendors within the airport or, if participating vendors and/or vouchers are not available, we will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals purchased during such irregular operations. Additionally, we may provide complimentary snacks and beverages for Customers.
If Southwest flight accommodations departing on the same day to your intended destination or applicable co-terminal city are not available following a flight delay or Southwest-initiated cancelation that is within our control (e.g., mechanical problems, aircraft swap), resulting in an overnight delay or stay, we will arrange lodging accommodations upon request if available, or will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for lodging accommodations (provided you do not reside locally). If the lodging accommodation we arrange does not provide shuttle service to/from the airport, we will offer a voucher upon request or honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for ground transportation.
For significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are not within our control (e.g., weather, Air Traffic Control, safety/security-related events, FAA-required crew duty limitations, infrastructure/utility problems), we will rebook you on the next available Southwest flight(s) with seats available to the Customer’s ticketed destination at no additional cost. If you choose not to travel due to a significant delay and/or cancellation, Southwest will issue a refund of the unused portion of your Southwest ticket upon request in accordance with our Contract of Carriage.
Although we do not offer complimentary lodging accommodations for significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are not in our control, we will seek to arrange a discount off of a lodging accommodation near the airport.
JetBlue Customer Service Plan
From the JetBlue Customer Service Plan
If your flight is canceled by JetBlue for any reason and you had a confirmed reservation at the time of cancellation, the following options are available:
- Travel on the next available JetBlue flight at no additional charge
- Receive a JetBlue “https://www.jetblue.com/help/travel-bank-credits” target=”_self” rel=”null”>Travel Bank credit
- Receive a refund to the original form of payment if your flight cannot be rebooked within 2 hours (120 minutes)
Additionally, flights canceled within 4 hours of scheduled departure are eligible for compensation under our Customer Bill of Rights.
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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.