Should Airlines Be Required To Find Stranded Travelers Flights On Competitors’ Planes?

So far this year, more than 162,000 flights have been canceled for one reason or another, including the polar vortex and a torched air traffic control center in Chicago. While the airlines may call these cancellations a small inconvenience, passengers know that’s not true, especially since it has become increasingly difficult to rebook their travel. Now, passenger rights groups are seeking changes to make traveling an easier experience for consumers.

The Los Angeles Times reports that passenger rights groups have proposed changes that would require airlines to abide by rules employed before airline deregulation in the 1970s.

Those rules, which ended in 1978, would require airlines to transfer passengers to the next available flight, even it that happens to be a different carrier.

“If your flight is canceled, you can use your ticket on another airline,” said Paul Hudson, president of, tells LA Times. has proposed the idea to an advisory committee of the U.S. Department of Transportation, calling the change a “win-win situation.”

Under the previous requirement, known as Rule 240, airlines were required to offer seats on a competitor’s next flight if that would get the traveler to his or her destination sooner. There was an exception for cancellations caused by an “act of God,” which each airline could define for itself.

Most airlines stopped enforcing those requirements after airline deregulation, with the exception of United Airlines and Alaska Airlines.

Despite some airlines’ willingness to continue using the outdated rules, most adamantly oppose creating such mandates today.

A spokesman for the trade group Airlines for America says the opposition stems from the fact that a mandate means the government would have to set the rate one airline pays another for a seat.

Still, advocates and industry experts tell the Times that something needs to be done to address the inconvenience passengers have encountered in 2014.

Most of those inconveniences were due to a combination of airlines proactively canceling flights because of impending inclement weather and higher passenger loads than ever before.

Starting in January and February, airlines began to cancel flights when bad weather threatened as a cost-saving measure to avoid having crews and planes wiring idle in storm-locked airports.

But by doing so, they often left passengers stranded with few options for other flights.

Hudson, the president for, says the effect of cancellations on passengers is only compounded by the fact that airlines now pack planes to record levels.

According to federal data, nearly 84% of flights have been flying full in the first nine months of 2014 – a record.

“If flights are nearly 90% full and yours is canceled, you have to wait three or four planes before you get rebooked,” Hudson said.

While airlines agree that cancellations and passenger capacity is up, they say that computer technology actually makes it easier to rebook passengers on later flights.

“When a customer’s flight is canceled, they are automatically rebooked on the next available flight,” Jean Medina, a spokesperson for industry group Airlines For America, said.

Airline employees tells the Times that despite advances in technology, some passengers are stranded for hours or days before they can get rebooked.

“We like the high load factor, but we need to be able to accommodate the passengers when flights are canceled or delayed,” Charles Cerf, president of the Transportation Workers Union, which represents 10,000 airline employees, tells the Times. “We are concerned that this is not going to change right away.”

Although high load factors and increased cancellations have wreaked havoc on passengers’ travel plans, airlines aren’t exactly hurting.

In fact, an industry trade group projects that U.S. airlines are on pace to record the highest profit margins in decades. Carriers in North America will likely report 6% margins in 2014, exceeding the peak rates for the 1990s.

That means that while, passengers may face more inconvenience in getting from one place to another, they likely won’t be paying any more for air fare.

Full flights make cancellations harder to rebook; new rules sought [The Los Angeles Times]

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