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Saturday, June 15, 2024

USDOT Announces “Support Our Troops” Dashboard to Improve Air Travel for Military Service Members and Their Families

Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit took steps to enhance their travel benefits for service members 

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a new “Support Our Troops” dashboard to help U.S. military service members and their immediate family members more easily access travel benefits offered by the 10 largest U.S. airlines. The dashboard clearly displays each airlines’ commitments to service members and their immediate family as reflected in their Customer Service Plan at flightrights.gov/military, including benefits such as free carry-on and checked bags and providing refunds without additional fees when their flight plans change due to a military order or directive. 

 “As someone who often flew on military orders as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, I know the unique pressures our service members and their families can face when traveling,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Service members and their families make extraordinary commitments and sacrifices for this country, and they deserve support and recognition whenever they fly.” 

Following Secretary Buttigieg’s call-to-action to airlines to improve military travel benefits, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, and Frontier Airlines stepped up their existing commitments in their Customer Service Plan for service members and their families. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines declined to make clear and enforceable commitments to U.S. service members and their families. Southwest Airlines has received two green checkmarks on the dashboard because of its existing baggage and change fee policies that apply to all passengers.  In making determinations on which commitments are reflected on the dashboard, DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection consulted with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and highlighted those commitments that the Department believes are most meaningful to service members and their families.  

The “Support Our Troops” dashboard highlights benefits that make air travel easier for U.S. service members and their immediate family members when engaging in personal travel. DOT’s dashboard gives a green checkmark to an airline for each benefit that the airline commits to provide:

  • Waives cancellation fees and ensures full refunds for service members and accompanying family members who cancel travel plans due to a military order or directive (documentation may be required).
     
  • Waives change fees for service members and accompanying family members who reschedule flights due to a military order or directive (documentation may be required).
     
  • At least one free standard carry-on and at least two free standard checked bags for service members and their accompanying spouse and children with appropriate identification such as a valid military ID.
     
  • The lowest fare for a flight for immediate family members to visit service members recently injured in the line of duty with supporting documentation.

DOT defines “service member” for the purpose of the “Support Our Troops” dashboard as current members of the military who are serving or may be called to serve. This definition was developed with input from DOD. At a minimum, these members include:

  • U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marines, U.S. Space Force, U.S. Coast Guard, National Guard, and U.S. Military Reserves with a current valid military ID; 
  • Cadets of the Air Force Academy, West Point, Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy, and Merchant Marine Academy with a current valid military ID; and 
  • Commissioned Corps and Ready Reserve Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and Commissioned Officers Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Officer Corps with current valid military ID.  

Airlines may offer additional benefits to service members and their families. For their benefits to be reflected on the dashboard, however, airlines are required to expressly provide them to all service members as defined by DOT and make these commitments in their Customer Service Plan or make them easily accessible from their Customer Service Plan. To the extent an airline’s military benefits fall short of these requirements, the Department may not be able to hold the airline accountable for failing to honor its commitments. Members of the military are encouraged to check the airline’s website or contact the airline’s customer service agents for more information.

DOT’s Historic Record of Consumer Protection Under the Biden-Harris Administration
Under the Biden-Harris Administration, DOT has advanced the largest expansion of airline passenger rights, issued the biggest fines against airlines for failing consumers, and returned more money to passengers in refunds and reimbursements than ever before in the Department’s history.

  • Last month, DOT announced two final rules that require airlines to provide automatic cash refunds to passengers when owed and protect consumers from costly surprise airline fees. These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed, and save consumers more than half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees. Provisions of the final rule on airline refund were fortified through the FAA reauthorization bill that President Biden signed into law on May 16, 2024.
     
  • In 2022, under Secretary Buttigieg’s guidance, DOT created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard known as FlightRights.gov to help airline passengers understand what they are entitled to receive certain services and amenities when a significant delay or cancellation was within the airlines’ control and create enforceable standards. Now all 10 major U.S. airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. These are new commitments the airlines added to their Customer Service Plans that DOT can legally ensure they adhere to and are displayed on flightrights.gov.
     
  • Since President Biden took office, DOT has helped return almost $4 billion in refunds and reimbursements owed to airline passengers – including more than $600 million refunds and reimbursements to passengers affected by the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in 2022.
     
  • DOT has issued over $164 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations. Between 1996 and 2020, DOT collectively issued less than $71 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations.
     
  •  DOT recently launched a new partnership with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to fast-track the review of consumer complaints, hold airlines accountable, and protect the rights of the traveling public.
     
  •  In 2023, the flight cancellation rate in the U.S. was a record low at under 1.2% – the lowest rate of flight cancellations in over 10 years despite a record amount of air travel.
     
  •  DOT is undertaking its first ever industry-wide review of airline privacy practices and its first review of airline loyalty programs. 

In addition to finalizing the rules to require automatic refunds and protect consumers from surprise fees, DOT is also pursuing rulemakings that would:  

  • Propose to ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Before President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines last year, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now, four airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, as the Department is working on its family seating junk fee ban proposal.
     
  • Propose to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations.
     
  • Expand the rights for passengers who use wheelchairs and ensure that they can travel safely and with dignity.

DOT’s aviation consumer protection website makes it easy for travelers to understand their rights. Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here.

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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/usdot-announces-support-our-troops-dashboard-improve-air-travel-military-service

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