Business

Biden Wants Airlines to Pay Passengers for Delays. In Europe, they already do

Rotten luck seems to follow Mattia Zenere, 31, on his travels lately.

Over the past five years, four of his flights have involved long delays or cancellations, including one misadventure — on a trip from London to Venice, Italy — that caused him to arrive a full day late.

But there’s a silver lining: Thanks to Europe’s robust consumer protection rules for airlines, in each case, the customer service professional was refunded his out-of-pocket expenses. Mr. Zenere also received an additional hardship payout from the airline for three of the disruptions.

“The law really works,” he said.

For fed-up air travelers in the U.S., similar protections could be on the horizon — and the airlines aren’t happy about it. This week, President Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, announced plans to introduce new rules this year that would require airlines to pay up for travel disruptions they cause.

Following waves of pandemic-era flight interruptions and the fiasco that forced Southwest Airlines to cancel 16,700 flights around the winter holidays, Biden is betting that Americans will want the kind of protections Europeans (and non-Europeans who fly in Europe) have enjoyed for nearly 20 years.

The E.U. law is popular — and generous. A flight delayed by more than three hours is considered canceled, and the passenger is entitled to between 250 euros ($273) and 600 euros in compensation. The payout is determined by flight distance, not ticket price, which airlines have long protested.

Airlines can contest payments by arguing a disruption was caused by extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather, a strike action by air traffic controllers or “an out of the ordinary” technical issue with the plane. But European courts continue to narrow the definition of “extraordinary.” This week, one ruled that even the death of a co-pilot does not get an airline out of reimbursing customers for a delay.

Biden’s plan would require cash refunds for significant delays or cancellations. The president also wants to see travelers compensated for meals, hotels, ground transport and rebooking fees. U.S. airlines are not currently required to offer cash compensation for delays or cancellations; they must compensate passengers who get “bumped” from flights.

That’s not enough, said Mr. Biden. “You deserve to be fully compensated. Your time matters. The impact on your life matters.”

Europe’s legislation has changed how airlines schedule flights, “with particular focus now on arrival punctuality,” a spokesman for Eurocontrol, the intergovernmental organization that helps manage Europe’s commercial airspace, told DealBook. Still, as air travel booms, E.U. flight data shows delays to be a growing problem.

Airlines oppose compensation laws. “Airlines already have financial incentives to get their passengers to their destination as planned,”Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, a lobbying group, said in a statement criticizing the Biden plan. “The added layer of expense that this regulation will impose will not create a new incentive, but it will have to be recouped — which is likely to have an impact on ticket prices.” Steer Group, an independent consultancy, calculated that in 2018, European airlines incurred a combined 5 billion euros in expenses to process the volume of compensation claims and pay out the meritorious ones. For each passenger disrupted, the airline incurred an average cost of 138 euros.

Europe’s air passenger rights regulation hasn’t been a panacea. It can still be time consuming and frustrating to secure claim money. Mr. Zenere, for example, is still arguing with Wizz Air, the airline that delayed his trip to Venice last year. They underpaid, he said, and still owe him 250 euros for the aborted trip. “I know my rights,” he said. — Bernhard Warner

Tell us what you think: What changes would you like to see introduced to make the air travel experience smoother? Email us at [email protected].

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George Santos pleads not guilty. The first-term Republican congressman from Long Island faces 13 counts of fraud, including money laundering, wire fraud, making false statements and stealing public funds. The indictment does not immediately prevent him from serving in the House, and it would take a two-thirds vote to expel him, which means Republicans would have to join Democrats.

Crashing a plane for YouTube views. A 29-year-old pilot and sky diver has admitted to intentionally crashing a small plane near Santa Barbara, Calif., as part of a video he filmed for a product sponsorship. He faces up to 20 years in prison for obstructing a federal investigation by cleaning up the crash site.


The business of Zelda

Few video games have been as revolutionary as Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, the action-adventure series launched way back in 1986. Now, almost 40 years later, the Japanese company has unveiled the latest edition of the franchise, Tears of the Kingdom, hoping that the game lives up to the significant anticipation.

It was released yesterday (some fans took the day off to play) and is expected to be a hit. But will it be enough to compensate for Nintendo’s slowing sales? The company last released a new console, the Switch, in 2017, the same year it released its last Zelda game, Breath of the Wild. Both were hugely successful. But the Switch faces growing competition, and gamers are pulling back from buying expensive hardware in general. New ventures, like “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” have provided a boost. But Nintendo doesn’t have plans to launch a crucial new console within the next year.

Still, the Zelda Franchise is a valuable asset with a long history and a rabid fan base. Here is a look at the game, and its business importance, by the numbers:

29 million: Copies sold of Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s most popular Zelda game.

10.3 million: Number of YouTube views of a four-minute trailer for the new Tears of the Kingdom game, which was meticulously analyzed by superfans for hints about the upcoming release.

$69.99: Tears of the Kingdom’s price tag, a $10 increase from what Nintendo usually charges for new games.

125 million: Total number of Switch consoles Nintendo has sold as of March 31, according to the company’s website.

15 million: Number of Switch consoles Nintendo expects to sell this fiscal year, after selling 18 million Switch units in the year to March. “Sustaining the Switch’s sales momentum will be difficult in its seventh year,” Nintendo’s president, Shuntaro Furukawa, said on a call with investors this week, according to Bloomberg.


On our radar: ‘BlackBerry’

Movies on Silicon Valley tech titans like Apple and Facebook captured the drama behind the businesses and their larger-than-life founders. “Blackberry,” which hit theaters yesterday, is the latest film to tell the story of a trailblazing company. The phone, with its teeny tiny keyboard, was transformative and such a mainstay of executives’ lives that it became known as the “crackberry.”But the real subject of the film is the relationship between the technologists behind the device and the executives who turned into a booming business. And while the BlackBerry may have spectacularly flamed out in the iPhone era, reviewers have found plenty of current relevance in the movie. “More than anything, perhaps, “BlackBerry” highlights the vulnerability and exploitability of creatives in a cutthroat marketplace,” wrote Jeannette Catsoulis for The New York Times.

Thanks for reading! We’d like your feedback. Please email thoughts and suggestions to [email protected].

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