New protections for air passengers as busy summer travel begins

ByRenee Koury KGO logo
Friday, May 19, 2023
New protections for air passengers as busy summer travel begins
Air travel was chaos for millions of passengers last summer. What can consumers expect this season?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In spite of inflation, experts predict record-high air travel this year. But as the summer season begins, travelers wonder if they'll face the same rampant delays as last summer.

Many people are booking flights right now. Tickets are pricey and planes will be full. Last year, airlines couldn't handle the load. So what will we see this year? These questions come as the government is proposing more consumer protections.

Air travel was chaos for millions of passengers last summer.

More than a quarter of U.S. flights were delayed and 3% were canceled, stranding passengers and upending travel plans.

Then a computer meltdown at Southwest Airlines stranded thousands more passengers last Christmas.

RELATED: If your Southwest flight was canceled, here's how to get your refund

Now, as the new summer travel season takes off, memories of that chaos still linger.

Scott Keyes of the travel site "Going" says things should improve -- airlines have ramped up capacity and staffing over the past year. Still, summer will be a tough test.

"A lot of folks are wondering, 'Is my flight gonna get delayed or canceled the way it did to kick off last summer, the way it did certainly over the Christmas-New Year period on Southwest,'" Keyes said. "I think there's potential for it to be the busiest air travel summer on record."

Yes, the busiest ever.

More than 260 million passengers took to the skies from January through April this year, setting a new record -- good for the industry, maybe not for passengers.

"Certainly not if you're hoping for a little bit of elbow room on your next flight," Keyes said.

He says to expect packed planes.

RELATED: Traveler faces nightmare after flight canceled and airline denies refund

The travel surge comes as the federal government is considering new protections for air travelers who get stuck with delays or cancellations.

Most major airlines have now agreed to compensate passengers for some expenses if the airline caused a long delay or cancellation. Stranded passengers can be reimbursed for things like meals, hotels, and taxicabs.

So far those commitments are voluntary. The feds want to make it law -- and the proposal could go even further.

"The second thing that this proposal would do, which is really groundbreaking, is requiring airlines to provide compensation to travelers, as a result of those controllable delays, or cancellations," Keyes said.

TRAVEL TIPS: Here is what you can do if your flight has been canceled or delayed

Keyes says there are no specific proposals, but it could mean payment for inconveniences caused by delays, like missing a tour or a business meeting.

"They lost time, they lost some amount of their vacation, certainly a headache when those delays or cancellations happen," Keyes said.

The compensation would only apply if the airline caused the delay or cancellation. They can be blamed for issues like mechanical problems or pilot shortages. They are not responsible for troubles due to weather. Airlines are expected to push back on these proposals. It could be very costly to them. And of course, new rules won't happen fast in Washington.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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