Major U.S. Airlines Commit To Put You On Another Airline When Long Delays Are Their Fault

For the most part the major U.S. airlines have already offered to pay for lodging and meals during ‘controllable delays’. When your flight goes mechanical and strands you overnight, or the airline cancels your flight due to lack of crew and can’t rebook you until the next day, the majors already provide hotel rooms – although the Biden administration is now taking credit for this.

What’s new, generally speaking, is that several carriers have amended their policies to actually reimburse you when they’re unable to provide you with a room and you book one yourself.

  • This comes at the prodding of the Department of Transportation, under threat of regulation
  • It’s a minor win, not the major one that the Administration and some media sources are portraying
  • And as always the devil is in the details

The new Department of Transportation dashboard comparing customer service policies is live. The idea is a simple place to compare what each airline will do for customers during ‘controllable delays and cancellations’.

  • These policies do not apply in the event of delays outside an airline’s control like weather or air traffic control

  • The dashboard is a quick and easy way to compare policies but completely misses their nuance

  • And they provide a link to each airline’s policies, so you don’t have to Google “[airline] customer service plan” (again, this is modestly helpful but being vastly oversold)

I noted yesterday that United will reimburse up to $200 for hotel when they can’t provide a hotel that they are required to – though you can argue for a higher amount if you can demonstrate that it’s reasonable under the circumstances, but Delta, by contrast, will only give you a travel voucher worth up to $100 if they cannot find you a hotel.

The DOT dashboard completely misses this nuance. They also offer check marks by ‘rebook passenger on another airline at no additional cost’ next to American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United – but the nuance in each airline’s policies is lost.

  • American Airlines says they will only rebook you on another (partner) airline “[i]f no American Airlines flights are available until the next day.”

  • Delta simply says they will do it “[i]f a Delta flight is unavailable,” but they don’t define what unavailable means, offering no timeline. They don’t use the word partner, instead offering the broader “airline with which we have a ticketing agreement” instead. (Partner may mean codeshare or frequent flyer partner, while Delta has a ticketing agreement with other major U.S. airlines that they don’t have deeper partnerships with.)

  • United uses the same “next day” standard as American but requires that you ask for rebooking on a partner airline (so have to know this is an option and prompt for it) which is a step the others do not specify as necessary.

The rebooking commitment on other airlines, in writing, is something that hasn’t consistently been offered especially for passengers traveling in economy class and without frequent flyer status. So that’s another improvement, though again the fine print – like a next day travel requirement – makes it less useful than it might appear in the DOT chart.

What the largest airlines have done, in essence, is adopted a policy that does the minimum to get them a check mark on the DOT website while limiting their exposure. Still, a check mark is better than an X.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t know if this still works – but about when I was rerouted by Delta onto UA due to an MX delay, the reservation was booked into the UA system as a full Y ticket. We were able to then upgrade using UA miles as if we had paid a full Y fare. The flight was from Australia to the US, so the upgrade made a huge difference.

  2. Still totally inadequate. a $5 meal voucher in an airport won’t buy you a bagel. A $100 hotel room is not acceptable. We need EU 261 type protections immediately. Also, the DOT needs a database that tracks delays – preventable vs. non-preventable. It will remove the wiggle room that airlines create by saying a rainstorm on the West Coast results in a weather delay for a LGA – DCA shuttle flight on a regional jet. Cash if they don’t perform.

  3. @Ron I was rebooked by Delta on United about 10 years ago, also into Y. I was Platinum on Delta and was about halfway through a status match on United at the time, so I was automatically upgraded.

    I sent an email to Delta after the flight asking to be credited for the missed flight. They credited me for both the SkyMiles and segments I missed.

  4. rjb,
    you simply have no clue how complex the US air transportation system is and how much ATC and weather do impact airlines’ abilities to operate.
    Airlines don’t stop flying to ATL or CLT or ORD or EWR because of weather. The FAA makes the determination of what they can handle and then puts the delays in place that airlines have to live with.

    Airlines don’t say that a storm on the west coast impacts the ability of a flight on the west coast to operate – there are codes for late arriving aircraft which airlines do live.

    You also do not understand the complexity of travel by any means if you expect everything to operate 100% on -time and you be compensated for every delay at rates that far exceed what you paid for your ticket.

    Some people really should just stay home.

  5. @rjb – you know the EU is under pressure to eliminate some of the compensation (or change the terms) related to EU261 right?

  6. The key part of the headline is “when long delays are their fault” – when is anything ever their fault; they blame everything on everybody else?

    And promising to book you on their competitors: which of them have seats avaialble to accomodate their competitors’ passengers?

  7. This just shows that the politicians are starting to be impacted by the “couldn’t give a damn” airlines’ failures. And that is exactly what it is going to take to ever achieve the changes that are required. If the government doesn’t act, then all of the money they gave to the airlines will be consume by the class action lawsuits to come. Currently, the airline have no incentive to give a cancellation or delay one bit of consideration.

    There should also be a provision that the reason letter that travel insurance companies require should be automatically attached to the online reservation immediately. It seems their story changes as the day gets worse.

    I have yet to hear any negative impact of EU261.

    Change the contract of carriage to represent this decades environment and allow for legal damages to be awarded.

    ANYTHING that will force an airline to weigh the consequences rather than just screw the passengers

  8. I started in 1967 with Canadian Pacific Airlines (soon to be CP Air) as an agent at YVRAP. It was very common to involve reroute people on AC, PW, WA and UA under what I believe was Rule 240.

  9. I wish the DOT had gone further, and not just issued a watered down set of advices. For instance, requiring airlines to reaccommodate on OA for anything 2 hours or longer even if caused by weather or ATC. The DOT is largely letting the airlines play as they like. Most delays are weather or ATC. What do you think the industry reaction would be if DOT just flat out required the reacommodation for 2 hours plus delay, overnight accommodations even with weather/ATC delay or a $250 payment if the airline was not able to provide a hotel voucher. Even if they raised the cost of tickets by $5.00 to cover “most” travelers who don’t have a lot of resources or know how would be better protected. And every airline would have to provide this, so the ULCC’s would have to form interline ticketing agreements. Or maybe you let ULCC’s pay out $500 if they don’t form an interline ticket agreement they can alternatively reimburse up to $500 for OA travel that they cannot book per there own procedures. Or maybe you let them get away with paying out the $250 hotel rate per day as long as the pax has to be stranded and they don’t provide there own hotel voucher. You really need mandated interline accommodations, hotel, and cash pay outs more than you need a pretty dashboard. But I’m genuinely curious how the industry would respond if forced to do this pro consumer thing which obviously they would rather avoid to please Wall Street!

  10. The simple reality is that all of these new regulations are going to hurt low cost carriers and drive up their fares more than it will hurt the biggest airlines.
    AA, DL and UA have offered some version of all of these rules for years; they can tweak their policies and send out a memo to their employees to tell them to accommodate passengers under situation X but WN has never had the capability to transfer a passenger to another airline and that is true for other airlines.
    The ultra low cost segment of the US airline industry is in serious financial condition right now. Throwing a few more regulations on top of spiraling labor and fuel costs was already the recipe for much higher fares.

    Those of you that long for EU 261 provisions should do well to watch Lufthansa’s operation over the next few days as their pilots strike tomorrow. I can assure you that far more passengers will be negatively impacted than any US airline has done all summer other than when thunderstorms set up shop over Texas or NYC or Florida.

    The grass is often not as green on the other side of the fence as you think….

  11. I agree cause Buttigeig is so qualified since he was mayor of Gary, Indiana.
    I guess he had those airlines execs on notice! Dont forget, buy electric.

  12. South Ben, Joanie, South Bend.
    And just don’t buy electric cars – or expect to charge them – in California when their power grid is on the verge of collapse as it is expected to be next year.

    Everyone is doing a political hit job on airlines because it is election season and some people, as Gary accurately notes, have greater aspirations; it is easy to legislate something for which the impact won’t be seen for years when you can’t get the job you are supposed to do right.

    Governments are responsible for nearly all of the interruptions to supply and demand whether it be supplies or services including labor. Instead of admitting they are wrong, they just double down and think they can legislate their way out of the mess they created.

  13. The glaring exceptions – sorry, details – are exactly why we need the equivalent of EU261.

    @AC – The pushback is precisely because EU261 works. This is just carping by the airlines when they’re trying to weasel out of meeting their commitment. Even when they do have to legally pay, many airlines in the EU fight tooth and nail to avoid paying as obliged. That’s just evidence that 261 needs to be strengthened rather than weakened. If all payments were doubled if an airline tried to stiff you they’d pay up a lot quicker.

  14. You have as much chance of getting an honest answer about delays from the airlines as you have in winning 3 Card Monte on a street corner. More so, if it means they have to do something other than shift the blame…

    American big business has found it much easier to say no than provide a solution…

  15. @Tim Dunn, You obviously don’t understand EU261 – if it is weather-related, airlines are not responsible. What they are responsible for are things within their control.

  16. well, I do understand, and what you clearly don’t is that the FAA, unlike most air traffic control or slot systems around the world, allows US airlines to schedule capacity based on normal weather. Anytime there is anything remotely out of the ordinary that happens, ATC throws a delay on regardless of whether the reason is weather or their own staffing.
    The major European hubs have much less low cost competition and much higher fares.
    The US has taken the track of allowing as many flights as possible to drive down fares which means anything possible goes wrong. Low cost service is forced much further from city centers.
    And I also have flown in and through Europe enough to know that even EU 261 doesn’t result in better service or more compensation for passengers. You and others are deluded if you think that airlines there start writing checks and vouchers anytime anything goes wrong.

    Spirit is on the way out, fares will rise. Frontier was barely profitable. the chances that JetBlue survives its merger and expansion are not real high. Fares are going up. Maybe the Biden administration should push for better passenger protection rules from US airlines but we are quickly going back to the regulated era in terms of high air fares. There is no free lunch in life and not in the airline industry. If you and others want much higher passenger protections it will come – and already is – with much higher fares.

  17. What about foreign airlines operating out of US?

    Air Canada frequently just stands people with no recourse.

  18. Like the airlines ever admit ANYTHING is their fault.

    They have more excuses than a 5 year old caught doing something wrong.

  19. Where was Mayor Pete when the majority of our inbound national supply chain was stacking up outside of the Port of Long Beach? This doesn’t make up for his months of paternal leave during a real crisis.

  20. Allegiant will let you rebook on their metal if they cancel your flight. Not sure why the administration wants to take a dump on them and claim otherwise. Lately they have even been throwing $150-200 vouchers at customers no questions asked.

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