President Biden sent out an odd tweet about airline consumer protections on Wednesday. He claims that airlines did not used to provide refunds when they cancelled flights, but thanks to his administration they do now. That just is not true.
Two years ago, if the airline was at fault for a flight cancellation or delay, almost none would guarantee you anything other than a fee to rebook.
Now, because of our work to crack down on junk fees, 10 airlines rebook for free.
That's peace of mind this winter travel season.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 28, 2023
Early in the pandemic United and JetBlue were bad actors, refusing refunds, but the Department of Transportation (in the last administration!) let them know this was unacceptable and they fell into line. American and Delta were much more honest with customer refunds. This was three and a half years ago in any case.
Some foreign carriers, like TAP Air Portugal and Air Canada, remained bad actors – but DOT investigations begun during the last administration addressed this.
The Biden administration has proposed a new rule requiring refunds for significant schedule changes and cancellations that has not been finalized and that is less generous than what most airlines already provide, for instance requiring refunds for 3 hour schedule changes while United and Delta give refunds for smaller changes. (American still has not reverted to its pre-pamdemic schedule change policy and requires a four hour change for a refund.)
There are several other consumer-related initiatives from the Biden administration under Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation, which either haven’t actually happened or haven’t made a significant difference.
- President Biden proposed requiring cash compensation to passengers for controllable flight delays and cancellations. But his administration intentionally did not put forth a regulation, instead delaying a process so that it only might happen if he gets re-elected. He’s campaigning on this, not doing it.
- The DOT did shame airlines by comparing their policies for providing hotels and meals during controllable delays, and for putting passengers up in hotel rooms when stranding them overnight.
In this dashboard the nuance of airline policies, which haven’t actually changed much, gets lost. So while each has a different standard for what they’ll provide, they largely look alike with a check mark. So this is marginally beneficial to passengers, but hasn’t been revolutionary.
- DOT has proposed a rule for greater airline fee transparency that doesn’t seem to address an actual problem and in some cases hands more power to airlines rather than benefiting consumers. This rule has not been finalized. Meanwhile, the Biden administration hasn’t addressed the scammiest fees in travel at all.
To be fair, there are limits to what the Biden administration can do administratively. One thing that the Supreme Court has made clear over and over in recent years is that you need actual laws passed by Congress to substantially change government policy. In most cases, legislation hasn’t been introduced. (While Congress does still spend money, more before we wound up with divided government a year ago, it rarely legislates.)
Airlines certainly almost never charged a fee to rebook passengers when their flights were delayed or cancelled. That claim is simply not true.
I attribute this tweet to an overzealous staffer who does not understand air travel. President Biden is not sitting around with his iPhone composing campaign-related tweets. That is staffed out. And in this case, it was done badly – making claims that aren’t true.