President Joe Biden has named a whole bunch of recent officers at dozens of key businesses. But for airline passengers, none are extra essential than the swearing in of Pete Buttigieg because the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. He will command a bunch of federal regulators overseeing airways, airports, and plane producers, together with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Nearly all shopper advocates agree that the previous administration was a disappointment for advancing air passengers’ rights. In October 2020, 10 advocacy organizations wrote to the DOT to define the important thing methods officers had failed the flying public. (Note: As an aviation advisor on passenger points, I performed a job in crafting the letter, however the opinions expressed listed here are my very own.)
Here are three points which have generated essentially the most complaints from airline passengers during the last couple years. Consumer advocates are preventing for these and lots of different points regarding security, well being, safety, and passenger rights, and the approaching weeks and months will present how Secretary Buttigieg intends to reply to such considerations.
Flight refunds for the pandemic and past
In 2020, a whole bunch of hundreds of customers adopted authorities and well being mandates by not flying through the pandemic—solely to be denied refunds for these flights.
Once COVID-19 lockdowns started in earnest in March 2020, the DOT refund laws proved to have quite a few loopholes for airways and different ticket sellers to keep away from paying refunds. One Congressional examine estimated excellent flight refunds totaled $10 billion in 2020. The DOT did challenge written warnings to airways about deceptive customers on refund insurance policies. Still, these official warnings yielded few outcomes for vacationers, and for practically a 12 months only a few customers acquired refunds. Recent statistics from the DOT are nothing lower than astounding: Refund complaints soared from 1,574 in 2019 to 89,518 in 2020, reaching an all-time excessive.
Many advocates—and customers—really feel that since U.S. airways have acquired a number of rounds of presidency help, there’s no excuse not to refund vacationers. “At the same time the airline industry has been opening its hands for billions of dollars in taxpayer aid, it has been closing its hands to the same taxpayers asking for refunds they are legally entitled to for canceled flights,” says Kurt Ebenhoch, Executive Director of Travel Fairness Now. “Now some of those stuck with travel credits are finding they’re about to expire.”
Consumer watchdogs are petitioning each the airways and the DOT for extensions to the voucher expiration dates. They’re additionally urging airways to pay excellent refunds nonetheless owed to passengers, and requesting Secretary Buttigieg make sure that prospects obtain their a reimbursement.
As far as long-term coverage adjustments, advocates are pushing the DOT to rewrite the foundations for passenger refunds. These laws ought to be expanded to extra absolutely cowl “force majeure” conditions—or sure situations claimed to be outdoors of an airline’s management, like a pandemic, that presently imply carriers aren’t held utterly answerable for refunds or different reaccommodations.
Finally, the DOT should change into extra stringent about imposing refund laws. Written warnings can solely go up to now, and advocates say the division and Secretary Buttigieg ought to perform penalties towards carriers that repeatedly deny refunds.
Permanent adjustments to well being protocols
Just days after his inauguration in January, President Biden instituted a compulsory face masks rule all through the United States, together with onboard business plane and inside “transportation hubs.”
But a lot nonetheless wants to be finished by the DOT to shield airline passengers throughout this pandemic. “We welcome the Biden Administration’s airport and airplane face mask mandate that, along with the voluntary vaccination of millions, will increase confidence in air travel,” says Kevin Mitchell, Chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. “However, those two components alone represent an insufficient solution.” Federal pre-trip testing guidelines for unvaccinated passengers would assist restore traveler confidence, he says, and it may additionally assist kickstart enterprise journey once more.