Airlines soaring to new heights: cancellations down, passenger rights up

Flight cancellations at 10-year low despite record air travel - ConsumerAffairs

There’s more positive things going on at airports, too

It’s been a rough few years for the airline industry. What became the not-so-friendly skies after one Boeing 737 after another proved to be defective, Southwest suffering meltdowns, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in a constant tug of war with airlines about cancellations and delays, one of those question marks is starting to show a positive response.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that the flight cancellation rate for the first half of 2024 was nearly the lowest in more than a decade, despite record-breaking levels of air travel this year. How low? A cancellation rate of only 1.4% – half of what it was two years ago.

With airfares down 6% over a year ago, this lucky streak will hopefully continue as more and more people travel again like they did on June 23, 2024 when the TSA screened more airline passengers than it ever had before. 

More improvements are on the way, too

If you haven’t flown lately, don’t be surprised if things are a little different. Airlines might not have liked the tough love U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been applying, but they are responding. Now, when delays happen, travelers are more likely to get updates quickly and consistently until the situation is under control.

They’re also likely to see things like offers to change return flights at no cost – a welcome relief in the you-must-pay-for-every-little-thing fliers have gotten used to.

United has gotten so assertive in this regard that it’s now texting travelers live weather maps to explain flight delays.

Buttigieg said that the administration’s $25 billion investment in U.S. airport infrastructure is also starting to pay off. Nearly 200 terminal projects are currently underway. Runways and air traffic control towers are getting improved, gates added, flight capacity increased, and baggage systems are  no longer a guessing game. In fact, the most recent DOT consumer report shows the number of mishandled bags down 9% over 2023.

Buttigieg says the DOT’s not stopping there, though. In addition to finalizing the rules to require automatic refunds and protect consumers from surprise fees, the agency is also pursuing rulemakings that would:   

  • Propose to ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Four airlines have already said they’re in: American, Alaska, Frontier, and JetBlue.

  • Ensure that passengers are compensated and provided with amenities when airlines cancel or delay flights.

  • Ensure that passengers who use wheelchairs can travel safely and with dignity.

Remind ‘em who’s boss

If you get into a situation with a flight that is going haywire, remember that the DOT is on your side. Its flightrights.gov dashboard lists exactly what all 10 major U.S. airlines guarantee in the way of free rebooking and meals when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. 

An airline might not automatically come to you when one of these situations occurs, but don’t be shy about showing them the DOT dashboard and reminding them what they committed to.

Given the fact that the DOT has secured nearly $4 billion in refunds owed to airline passengers, the agency has proven it won’t hesitate to seek a resolution when a consumer files a complaint.

If this happens to you, contact the airline to ensure it gives you what is owed. If you are not happy with the airline’s response or attitude, then feel free to file a complaint with DOT.

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