Flight Delayed? Joe Biden Wants To Make Airlines Pay… Literally

"The impact on your life matters."

Flight Delayed? Joe Biden Wants To Make Airlines Pay… Literally

Image: Getty

Technological failures, system outages, and staffing shortages have recently caused widespread disruptions in the travel industry, resulting in thousands of flight delays and cancellations across the United States and the wider world. President Joe Biden, it seems, has had enough.

When he’s not rolling through the White House grounds in a custom Jeep or breaking presidential protocol in an electric Cadillac, Joe Biden is working hard to solve the problems faced by normal American citizens every single day.

One of the most persistent and undoubtedly the most irritating of these issues is air travel. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which sent air travel haywire, tech failures, system collapse, and widespread staffing shortages have caused massive disruption, resulting in thousands of flight delays and cancellations across the US.

To quantify that, data from the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests that a staggering twenty percent of flights were delayed last year, with airlines rightly taking much of the blame alongside some unusually adverse weather conditions.

WATCH: President Joe Biden gets asked what exactly he does for a living.

Responding to the mounting frustration from passengers, President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have proposed a new rule that aims to compensate those affected by carrier delays. During the announcement, Biden empathised with the plight of travellers:

“I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your U.S. airlines. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”

President Joe Biden

The proposal would require airlines to cover expenses incurred by passengers due to flight delays lasting three hours or more as well as for full-blown cancellations, whenever the airline is deemed to be the party at fault. In addition to rebooking or refunding the ticket price, carriers would bear the costs of hotel accommodation, meals, and ground transportation as required

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the proposed rule would establish a clear definition of “controllable cancellation and delay,” making it more much difficult for airlines to swerve accountability, a trick at which many carriers have become disappointingly well-practised.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the plans alongside Biden. Image: Oliver Contreras

Although the specifics are still being hashed out, most major U.S. carriers have already made commitments to compensating passengers affected by controllable delays and cancellations after the industry endured a widespread PR disaster last year. These commitments, however, have no firm roll-out date…

Only two carriers currently offer meaningful compensation: Alaska Airlines provides future flight discounts for delays of more than three hours while JetBlue automatically notifies passengers via email if their flight qualifies for compensation and offers travel credit up to US$250. Notably, no major U.S. airlines currently provide cash compensation.

Biden’s new proposal takes inspiration from existing regulations elsewhere. EU law grants passengers the right to a refund or replacement flight in cases of cancellation or lengthy delay, except when caused by “extraordinary circumstances” like severe weather or political unrest. This rule applies to all passengers, regardless of nationality.

If the proposed rule does become law, it could mark the dawn of a new age for air travel, where customer service and satisfaction is genuinely at the forefront of carriers’ minds and models. However, we predict some pretty aggressive pushback from certain corners of the airline lobby, who will see this as a potential erosion of their much-loved profit margins.

JetBlue is one of only two US carriers currently offering compensation. Image: Getty

Unfortunately for them, this argument feels increasingly lightweight. Likely to say something along the lines of “Compensation is unnecessary; if people aren’t happy with the service we provide then they can use another carrier”, such a short-sighted defence only holds up when there are other airlines that people are happy to turn to.

At present, however, all the data suggests that customer satisfaction is at a record low with airlines across the board. Therefore, it becomes hard to argue for carrier competition as the means to indirectly punish offending airlines when the entire industry is failing its customers.

People have to travel somehow and – when they believe all airlines offer an equally terrible experience – they’ll stick to the airlines they know out of affordability and convenience, keeping carrier profits plump despite their terrible track record. Without the threat of paying out compensation, airlines have no incentive to meaningfully improve their service.

People like to lay into Joe Biden for his age-induced yarns and seemingly endless political gaffs. FrankIy, I usually number myself in their ranks. On this issue though, I have only one thing to say: Let’s Go, Brandon.