Several major US air carriers caved to public pressure by confirming they will pay for meals and lodging to passengers who endure delays or cancellations ahead of the potentially chaotic Labor Day travel weekend.
The move by the carriers comes after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg demanded airline CEOs provide free meals and hotel rooms for lengthy delays “at a minimum” due a period of widespread flight disruptions and cancellations.
Most US airlines already offered meal vouchers or complimentary lodging to passengers in the event of delays, but the benefits were not explicitly detailed in plans on their website or other public-facing areas.
As a result, some customers had to be aware in advance about the existence of the vouchers in order to take advantage of the benefit.
“For cancellations or delays within our control, like mechanical issues, that result in your waiting for more than three hours, we’ll give you a digital or printed meal voucher,” United said in a customer commitment plan that took effect on Tuesday.
“This voucher can be used for the reasonable cost of a meal at airport food vendors. If you don’t automatically get one, just ask us.”
JetBlue noted that passengers stuck waiting 3 hours or more due to “controllable cancellations” will receive meal vouchers of $12 and hotel accommodations for overnight cancellations.
Southwest’s customer service plan includes similar language, though it notes in bold that the free meal vouchers and lodging apply to flight delays or cancellations “within our control.”
The Post has reached out to the airlines for comment on the updated customer service policies.
“US airlines are committed to offering a high level of customer service and providing a positive and safe flight experience for all passengers,” Airlines for America, a trade group representing major carriers, said in a statement.
“Carriers continue to post their customer service plans on their websites and welcome opportunities to simplify, clarify and increase transparency for travelers,” the statement added.
In letters to major US airline CEOs earlier this month, Buttigieg referred to ongoing travel chaos and flight disruptions as “unacceptable” ahead of the Labor Day holiday. The letters also demanded that airlines update their customer service plans to reflect assistance available to impacted travelers.
Buttigieg said the Department of Transportation was “contemplating” more regulations that would “further expand the rights of airline passengers.”
“As you know, these aren’t just numbers, these are missed birthday parties, graduations, time with loved ones and important meetings,” Buttigieg said.
Airlines have been struggling to meet surging travel demand this year while contending with labor shortages and supply chain issues. Mishandled baggage complaints and flight delays have spiked during the tumultuous period.