By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON – Two U.S. senators on Thursday urged airlines and regulators to take steps to reduce flight cancellations and delays after more than 2,700 Memorial Day weekend flights were cancelled.
Travelers are bracing for a difficult summer as airlines expect record demand and are still rebuilding staff after thousands of workers left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a letter https://www.blumenthal.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/0602.22dotflightdelaysandcancellations.pdf to detail steps the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) “is taking to hold airlines accountable for serious disruptions and to ensure consumers are wholly and justly compensated.”
They added: “While some flight cancellations are unavoidable, the sheer number of delays and cancellations this past weekend raises questions about airline decision-making.”
They wrote Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others seeking an “update on airlines’ plans to reduce and minimize the impact of such delays and cancellations going forward.”
The group declined to comment Thursday.
Airlines are working to hire and train more workers to accommodate the growing demand. Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian told reporters Wednesday in New York the airline is working to train new employees “as we’re seeing historic surging demand.”
Lawmakers want USDOT to complete action on a number of rules to improve airline consumer protections.
Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell, Blumenthal and Markey have asked Buttigieg to “define the timeframe for an eligible refund, and make the refund request process more transparent.”
Buttigieg said in May USDOT is “actively working on a rulemaking that would address protections for consumers unable to travel due to restrictions or concerns related to serious communicable disease” and set a standard for when delays are long enough to trigger refunds. A Buttigieg spokeswoman said he would respond directly to the senators.
In January, USDOT issued a final rule to make it easier for regulators to move faster to protect airline customers from deceptive practices.
USDOT also plans to issue separate rules to require upfront disclosure of baggage fees, change fees and cancellation fees and proposed new rules to require passenger airlines to refund fees for significantly delayed bags and refunds for inoperative services like onboard Wi-Fi.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Bernard Orr)