This year has been an unprecedented mess in air travel. The airline industry has continued to struggle and the consumer has paid the price. Unexplained flight delays and cancellations have become commonplace and travelers are fed up. The Department of Transportation pledged last month to hold the airline industry accountable, and to make their practices more transparent for customers. Last week, as a first step, the DOT unveiled a customer service dashboard that aims to give travelers a quick overview of what the airlines will do for you if you get stuck with a delay or cancellation.

What is the customer service dashboard?

The dashboard is a helpful tool that explains domestic airline policies in a simple and straightforward manner. But will this help with frustration next time you get stuck at the airport?

What does the customer service dashboard promise?

The dashboard’s scope is limited – only dealing with circumstances within the airline’s control. So which airlines offer the most protections for consumers (at least on paper)? American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue make the most promises when it comes to rebooking, offering meal vouchers and/or free hotel stays. Frontier Airlines makes the fewest.

Do the airlines have new policies for air travelers?

None of this is actually new. The issue is how the airlines have operated, some would say with impunity, keeping travelers mainly in the dark. For decades, the airlines left the details of your rights buried in complicated legal jargon in their Contracts of Carriage. The Contract of Carriage is basically your legal contract with the airline.

The average air traveler never sees or even knows about the Contract of Carriage. And how many people do you know who understand their legal rights if the airlines cancel on them? Most people simply aren’t aware of their rights.

What you can expect from the airlines

Some of what the DOT aims to compel the airlines to at a minimum, provide meal vouchers for delays of 3 hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight at an airport because of disruptions within the carrier’s control. The DOT expects the airlines to provide timely and responsive customer service during and after periods of flight disruptions, regardless of the cause.

The new dashboard could actually be a game changer if travelers use it. We’ll be rolling out a series of posts to explain the details of the customer dashboard over the next few weeks and months.

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