May 10, 2023

President Biden and Transportation Sec. Buttigieg Speak on Airline Accountability Transcript

President Biden and Transportation Sec. Buttigieg Speak on Airline Accountability Transcript
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President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg deliver remarks on protecting American consumers from flight cancellations and delays. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):


Speaker 2 (00:20):


Speaker 1 (00:25):

I want to begin by thanking President Biden for his leadership and thanks to all of you for joining us today. Every day more than a million Americans step aboard an airplane. Some people are setting out on the trip of a lifetime, others are wrapping up a weekly commute. We depend on airlines to get us to weddings, vacations, and job interviews that often wind up being some of the most important and memorable events in our lives. And our economy depends on these airlines doing a good job. When you board a flight, whether you are up before dawn, coffee in hand, ready to go to a conference or up past everyone’s bedtime wrangling toddlers like Chasten and I were the other night, you count on that airline to provide the service that you paid for. We’re here today to share the latest steps that we are taking to ensure that airlines do just that.

It’s important to note here that just over two years ago when President Biden took office in the depths of the pandemic, the biggest concern around our nation’s airlines was whether they would stay in business at all. And if they did, how many years or even decades it would take for them to recover. But President Biden acted to restore this economy swiftly and demand came back faster than most forecasters thought was even possible. And we know some US airlines have struggled to meet that demand. Now, weather remains the top cause of airline delays. But staffing and other issues under airline’s responsibilities meant that last summer we saw unacceptable rates of delays and cancellations even on blue sky days. And when extreme weather events collided with airlines that were unprepared, the problems multiplied, as more than two million Americans experienced with the failures at Southwest Airlines over the last Christmas holiday.

The good news is, we are seeing real improvements. Each month so far this year, preliminary data show cancellation rates under 2%, even during that busy spring break season. But summer travel is going to put enormous pressure on the system and we need to continue our work. We are always prepared to work collaboratively with airlines when there are steps that we can take as a department that would help. In New York, we’ve taken steps that would allow airlines to use larger planes with more seats at lower frequencies, which means that they can move more passengers overall, but with less congestion. In Florida where the closure of airspace to accommodate commercial space launches now actually happens often enough to noticeably affect airline schedules, we are engaging the space sector to keep more launch windows clear of peak flight periods. And across the country, we’re hiring more air traffic controllers to keep up with growing demand.

In fact, the latest application window is closing today, so I’m encouraging anyone who’s interested to consider applying. And FAA recently used new technology to clear over a hundred new more efficient flight routes that will save time and money. The FAA and Department of Transportation are doing our part, but airlines need to accept their fundamental responsibility to better serve passengers. When they don’t, we are here to enforce passenger rights and hold airlines accountable. In just over two years, this administration has delivered some of the most significant gains in airline passenger protections in decades. We have stepped up enforcement, rules and transparency. We’ve empowered passengers with better information. We’ve helped get a billion dollars in refunds and counting back to passengers, and we have secured enforceable commitments around customer service that didn’t exist just a year ago. And another major step is coming, as you’ll hear in just a moment from the President.

All of this is possible because President Biden is leading an administration relentlessly focused on making everyday life better for Americans. Just as the Biden Harris administration is delivering historic investments to improve physical infrastructure everywhere from airport terminals to crosswalks, we’re also acting to ensure Americans have a better experience with our transportation systems wherever they go and however they get there. It is an honor to serve in an administration that always puts consumers and workers first. And now it is my great honor to introduce the President of the United States President Joe Biden.

Speaker 3 (05:06):

Thank you. Secretary Buttigieg. Thank you all for being here, please sit down.

As we approach Memorial Day this weekend and Memorial Day weekend, I’m rushing it, and a busy summer travel season, I’m here to talk about steps my administration is taking to make air travel better for all Americans. The airline industry is a key part of our economy, and they’ve been critical partners in a number of important initiatives from requiring employees to get COVID vaccines and addressing the supply chain problems over the last couple years. But I know how frustrated many of you are with the service you get from your US airlines. Especially after you, the American taxpayer, stepped up in 2020 in the last administration in the early days of the pandemic to provide nearly $50 billion in assistance to keep the airline industry and its employees afloat. I get it. That’s why our top priority has been to get American air travelers a better deal. We’ve made real progress, some of which you’ve just heard.

Historically when delays in cancellations are the airline’s fault, the law has only required airlines to refund customers the price of their flight ticket, but not the cost of meals or hotels or transportation when you get left in limbo. In fact, a year ago almost no major airline guaranteed any compensation beyond the price of the ticket if they caused the delay, the delay was their fault. No reimbursement for a hotel after a canceled flight, or a meal after a delayed flight. But then we challenged them to do better. In fact, they did. Airlines started to change their policies when they’re at fault for canceling and delaying a flight. Now, nine major airlines cover hotels, 10 cover meals, 10 rebook for free. And that’s real savings for middle class and working class families. For example, the rebook fees could run as high as $200 per ticket. Now you don’t have to pay anything to rebook for most airlines, and that 200,$200 is back in your pocket, even more if you’re traveling with your family.

But that’s not all. At my State of the Union address, I pointed out airlines charging up to $50 a ticket just so you can sit next to your child. As I said, baggage fees are bad enough without you knowing the cost. Airlines can’t just treat a child like a piece of baggage. Well, guess what happened? Major airlines changed their ways. American Airlines, Alaskan Airlines, Frontier Airlines, they agreed to address family seating so parents can sit with their children without paying an additional charge. United Airlines also took important steps toward guaranteed free family seating, no cost beyond the original cost of the ticket. For families, that’s money back in your pocket. And that gives you peace of mind, that’s progress.

But there’s more. Last fall, the Department of Transportation proposed a rule that will be finalized this year. If finalized as proposed, it would require airlines to show you the full ticket price upfront before you purchase it, including fees for baggage, for internet, for changing your seat. That way you can get a fuller, more accurate price before you purchase your ticket. And you can compare prices and pick the best deal. We’re not stopping there. We know how frustrating delays, cancellations and re bookings are for travelers. Last holiday season, travelers were stranded for days and had to scramble to find other ways for reaching their destinations. Many missed family gatherings, spent Christmas at an airport, waited countless hours in line or on the phone because there weren’t enough pilots, there weren’t enough personnel. That’s unacceptable. And while flight delays and cancellations have come down since then, there’s still a problem. American air travelers deserve better, and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we’re doing here today.

And I’m proud to announce two critical steps that my administration is taking to protect American air passengers. First, we just launched a new website, It features a dashboard we created last fall to give travelers more transparency to airlines compensation policies. So if it’s the airline’s fault and your flight was canceled or delayed, you can check the dashboard to see how the airlines should be compensating you like rebooking a flight or accommodating your hotel room and your meals. And today, we’ve expanded that dashboard to include airlines guaranteed additional compensation like cash miles or travel vouchers. But here’s the deal. If you look at the dashboard today, you’ll find that only two airlines guarantee additional compensation beyond the ticket refund. If your flight is very delayed or canceled, and the airline could have prevented that, you deserve more than just getting the price of your ticket. You deserve to be fully compensated.

Your time matters, impact on your life matters. That’s why I’m announcing a second critical step today to protect American consumers. Later this year, my administration will propose a historic new rule that will make it mandatory, not voluntary, but mandatory for all US airlines to compensate you with meals, hotels, taxis, ride shares and rebooking fees. And cash miles and or travel vouchers whenever they’re the ones to blame for the cancellation or delay. And that’s all on top of refunding the cost of your ticket. Airline passengers in Canada for example, in the European Union, other places already get these compensations. And guess what? It works. One study found that the European Union required airlines to compensate passengers for flight delays, the number of flight delays went down. I appreciate Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership on this issue, and I hope and I expect the Department of Transportation to move as quickly as it can to put this new rule in place.

It matters. I know these things may not matter to the very wealthy, but they matter most to middle class families and people struggling to get the cost in the first place of getting that airline. And so look, these actions are in addition to other progress we’ve been making to lower cost for American families. Holding corporations accountable and grow our economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not just the top down. I signed a groundbreaking executive order on competition that is helping us do everything from lowering the cost of hearing aids to banning non-compete clauses. And in my State of the Union address, you may recall, I called for an end to junk fees. That is those hidden surcharges that you see at hotels, concerts, and credit card bills that you didn’t know about before you got the ticket. I continue to call on Congress to pass the Junk Free Prevention Act because that’s what American consumers deserve.

I’m going to close with this. We’re making progress, but we have more to do to reverse decades of concentrated corporate power and the continuing to lower prices and increasing opportunities for families, workers, and small business owners and entrepreneurs. So let’s finish the job. Remember who we are, as I’ve said many times, we’re the United States of America, there’s nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together. This is just about being fair. It’s about being fair. God bless you all, may God protect our troops. Thank you.

Speaker 2 (12:58):

[inaudible 00:13:05].

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