Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the uptick in flight cancellations and delays nationwide "unacceptable" and warned airlines his department could take actions if carriers don’t provide more transparency on why the disruptions are occurring.
Buttigieg wrote letters to several CEOs of U.S. airline carriers this week and called the level of disruption Americans have experienced this summer "unacceptable."
Buttigieg asked airline CEOs to, at a minimum, provide lodging for passengers stranded overnight at an airport and give out meal vouchers for delays of three hours or longer when the disruption is caused by something in the airline’s control.
The Transportation Department says the letters were sent to CEOs of 10 U.S. airlines including the major ones, their regional affiliates, and budget carriers.
Buttigieg’s agency recently proposed rules around refunds for passengers whose flights are canceled or rescheduled. He told the CEOs the department is considering additional rules "that would further expand the rights of airline passengers who experience disruptions."
Buttigieg has been sparring with the airlines since late spring over high numbers of cancellations and delays but said in his letter that he appreciates that airlines have stepped up hiring and trimmed schedules to better match the number of flights they can handle.
A spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group whose members include American, United, Delta and Southwest, said airlines "strive to provide the highest level of customer service." She said the airlines are committed to overcoming challenges including a tight labor market.
Staffing shortages have caused a significant amount of flight cancellations and delays throughout the summer, which analysts say would have been even worse if airlines had not trimmed down their schedules.
Earlier this summer, Nicholas Calio, president of the trade group Airlines for America, said its member carriers cut 15% of the flights they originally planned for through August while also ramping up hiring and training to combat issues and become more reliable for passengers.
Problems have persisted as demand ramps up to pre-pandemic levels, forcing some carriers to reduce their schedule for the fall.
Associated Press contributed to this report