Frequent travelers expect the usual hassles at the airport that come with booking cheap flights. But, surprisingly, airlines are starting to make overtures to their disgruntled passengers.
For example, after flooding in Bangkok, Thailand, U.S. airlines that fly there waived their ticket change fees for their Bangkok passengers. The recent labor dispute that shut down Australia’s Qantas Airline resulted in free tickets for disgruntled passengers, and JetBlue passengers stuck on the tarmac after a recent early snowstorm in the northeast were offered similar compensation. These incidents show that airlines are being slightly more pro-consumer these days, in hopes of counteracting bad press and making passengers happy.
Recent Qantas and JetBlue Problems
Qantas‘ fleet was grounded for two days in October during a dispute with unions, and 80,000 stranded passengers were furious. But Qantas is compensating stranded passengers by giving them each a free round-trip economy class ticket within Australia and New Zealand. JetBlue refunded passengers that were stranded on the tarmac in Connecticut for up to eight hours, after a surprise snowstorm in late October. Customers were also promised a round-trip voucher for future use, but regulations don’t require airlines to compensate passengers for similar situations.
DOT Rules on Stranded Passengers
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented rules imposing fines on airlines of $27,000 per passenger when they held passengers on idling jets for more than three hours. Though the rule at first only applied to domestic flights, international airlines are now also subject to the fines. The effect of the rule has been airlines that are more likely to cancel a flight rather than risk stranding passengers on the runway and facing these steep fines. So while you are less likely to end up trapped on the tarmac, you are more likely to face a cancellation.
How Passengers can Prepare
With airlines taking a more preemptive approach when they face the possibility of dangerous weather, FareCompare readers must be proactive to maximize the chances of reaching their destination on time. This winter, if you face a weather threat, call your airline or check their website before going to the airport. Have their customer service numbers programmed into your phone and their reservation website bookmarked on your laptop or tablet so that if your flight is canceled once you are at the airport you can begin the re-booking process simultaneously through multiple interfaces. Simply getting in line at the gate when your flight is canceled lowers your chances of getting on the next available flight.
The Price Airlines Pay
The recent labor disruption cost Qantas around $71 million, and the free flights may cost up to $25 million. Qantas’ stock has fallen 4.2 percent since late October, compared to a 1.8 percent decline in the S&P stock index. Though JetBlue’s stock is down for the year, it has not suffered significantly since the New England snowstorm in October, perhaps because the weather problems were perceived as less preventable than Qantas’ labor dispute. But there’s little dispute that bad press can tarnish an airline’s image, counteracting some of the appeal of booking those cheap flights.