DOT’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard Is Live, Has Surprises

by SharonKurheg

According to FlightAware, in 2022 alone, airlines have so canceled about 146,000 flights, or 2.6% of all flights, and nearly 1.3 million flights have been delayed. That’s about 30% more cancellations and 25% more delays than the same period in 2019.

Federal officials have been blaming many of the disruptions on understaffing at airlines, which encouraged employees to quit after the pandemic started. The airlines have said it’s not their fault – it’s because of staffing problems at air traffic control towers. Either way, it’s the passengers who suffer with stays at airports that last form hours to days.

“Passengers deserve transparency and clarity on what to expect from an airline when there is a cancellation or disruption,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. And so, just ahead of Labor Day weekend, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched their customer service dashboard. You can see it here.

 The new tool, said Buttigieg, will help travelers to “easily understand their rights, compare airline practices, and make informed decisions.”

Travelers can check the dashboard to see what kinds of guarantees, refunds or compensation the 10 major domestic airlines (Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United) offer if there are flight delays or cancellations. It’s designed to enable travelers to shop around and favor those airlines that offer the best compensation.

The chart specifies the airlines’ commitments for controllable cancellations and delays. Those include maintenance or crew problems, cabin cleaning, baggage loading, and fueling. They don’t include difficulties such as air traffic control problems or weather, since those issues aren’t controllable by the airlines. So if your flight is delayed because something on your plane broke and then your crew timed out, you’d potentially be due food and hotel vouchers (depending on how long and when your delay is). But if it’s because of a backlog due to a rocket launch in Florida, storms in Texas, a security issue at LA, or most of ATC in Cheyenne has called out with Covid, too bad, so sad; that’s not the airline’s fault.

The DOT’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard is divided into 2 parts:

On the top of the page there are charts detailing each airline’s commitment for controllable cancellations and delays. They include their commitment (or not) to:

  • Rebook passengers on same airline at no additional cost
  • Reboot passenger on another airline at no additional cost
  • Meal or meal cash/voucher when cancellation results in passenger waiting for 3 hours or more for new flight
  • Complimentary hotel accommodations for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation
  • Complimentary ground transportation to and fron hotel for any passenger affected by an overnight cancellation

On the bottom of the page are links to each of the 10 major U.S. airlines’ customer service plans.

As of this writing, only the 3 Legacy airlines commit to everything. Allegiant commits to nothing (and I can’t decide if that’s a surprise or not, to be honest). The other 6 airlines commit to some, to varying degrees.

The DOT is hoping the dashboard will encourage competition among carriers to offer the most transparency and the best protections for customers.

“Carriers welcome opportunities to simplify travel policies, clarify existing practices and increase transparency for travelers. U.S. airlines publicize their customer service plans on their individual websites,” said industry trade group Airlines for America in a statement. The new dashboard “gives travelers another platform to access that information.”

I guess if the information is all there as a “one stop shop,” it certainly makes things easier. But will it be a real tool to help potential passengers decide what airline to take? I think it’s questionable. Routing, timing and the all important dollar seem to be in most peoples’ minds when deciding which airline to use, rather than Delta will put you up in a hotel overnight and give you free transportation to/from said hotel, Spirit will give you a hotel stay but no transportation to/from, and both Frontier and Allegiant will let you rot at the airport, if you plane happens to be delayed overnight.

But at least some airlines are now committing to pay for your meal and hotel if you’re stuck at the airport for a while. That’s new.

Feature Image (cropped): OakleyOriginals / flickr / License CC by 2.0

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