Air travel is horrible. Transparency can improve it.


When airline passengers watch in horror as their flight status changes from “delayed” to “cancelled”, two competing visions are likely to come to mind. One is pitchforks and torches. The other is a few hundred other travelers scrambling to catch the next available flight. If you dwell too long on the pitchfork and the torches, a third vision comes into play: having to find a hotel room.

Air travel is full of nightmare scenarios. The percentage of cancellations is at its highest in at least 15 years, excluding the pandemic-ravaged year 2020. there were more flights in 2019. Passengers are wondering where the $50 billion in Covid wage aid for the industry went.

All this agony has led to calls for more regulation, and the government has urged airlines to give out meal vouchers for delays of at least three hours caused by the carriers themselves and to provide accommodation for passengers blocked overnight. It’s a small, and perhaps tempting, step to go from prompting these steps to requiring them.

Before taking drastic measures to force airlines to improve their service, let’s consider a little context. The economy is emerging from a pandemic that has upended society, created labor shortages and disrupted all modes of transportation, including trucking, railroads, shipping and, yes, airlines aerial. Plus, it’s a safe bet that if airlines are required by the government to go above and beyond what they already do for meals and hotel stays, they’ll claw it back from everyone. thanks to higher prices. Fines or other warrants would only increase ticket prices. Airlines can also blame weather and air traffic control problems for delays and cancellations to circumvent pesky compensation rules.

However, customers can influence airlines and improve service through their portfolio. Competition has a way of changing behavior. To do this, however, travelers need better information.

The Department of Transportation took the right steps last week by asking airlines to clarify their policies on cancellations, delays, refunds and other areas of service on a website called the Service Dashboard. airline customer”. More could be done with this tool. Consumers need additional performance information that is easy to digest and allows them to compare which airlines are most likely to cancel a flight or lose baggage.

On the website that Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced after hammering airlines for weeks, there is detailed information about airline policies and travelers’ rights to seek refunds. A link directs the user to a Transportation Department format for filing a complaint online.

There’s also a handy chart that shows whether airlines will pay for a meal if a flight is delayed or for a hotel room if a flight is canceled and requires an overnight stay. There are 10 commitments listed and squares for each airline which display a green tick if a carrier is in compliance and a red X if not. Major carriers such as American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holding Inc. have green checkmarks in all categories, such as “free ground transportation to and from the hotel for any passenger affected by a delay by night”. Smaller airlines, many of which fly under service agreements with larger carriers, have more punctual offers. Just a travel warning, Allegiant Air LLC is the only one with a red X in all 10 categories.

Travelers can click on a link to each airline for details of their policy, which is useful as they are often buried in the fine print and only given on request. However, the dashboard could tell consumers much more. The information should clearly indicate which airlines have the best track record for on-time arrivals or the worst for cancellations.

The Department of Transportation already has all of this data and more. It’s buried in a roughly 80-page monthly report called the Air Travel Consumer Report. It’s a bit dense, though, and a lot of the good stuff gets buried, like the number of customer complaints about each airline and the reasons why.

Below are some tables that travelers can consult before purchasing tickets. With just a glance, passengers can see that there is more than a third chance of a flight being delayed if they take Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways or Allegiant. Delta is on schedule 81% of the time and American Airlines is in the middle of the pack with an on-time record of 75%.

Be careful with the American, though. As the following graph shows, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier will mishandle checked bags 1.2% of the time, which is the worst of any carrier.

When it comes to customer complaints, for example, Frontier Airlines is a dubious number 1. For 100,000 thefts, it receives about 15 complaints. That compares to 1.2 for Southwest Airlines. Maybe that cheap Frontier flight isn’t worth the money saved if the passenger is stranded at an airport and can’t get a refund. Making this unbiased consumer information easily accessible and easy to read would force airlines to improve their service.

If consumers vote with their feet and give more business to airlines with the best service, it will motivate companies to solve their problems. Having some of this information at consumers’ fingertips is a good place to start.

More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

• Airlines continue to abuse passengers. Regulate Them: Adam Minter

• Passengers hate Qantas. Shareholders May Love Him: David Fickling

• Do not cancel private jets. Here’s a better idea: Chris Bryant

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Thomas Black is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering logistics and manufacturing. Previously, it covered US industrial and transportation companies as well as Mexican industry, economy and government.

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