DoT Proposes New Rule to Expand Consumer Rights for Airline Refunds
The U.S. Department of Transportation published a new proposal last week that would expand consumer rights when it comes to cancelations and refunds for both domestic and international flights. This has been a big issue especially during the pandemic.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, out of the more than 2.73 million flights so far in 2022, roughly 20% have been delayed while another 3% have been outright canceled.
“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”
The Department of Transportation currently requires airlines and ticket agents to refund travelers if airlines cancel or significantly change their flights. However, the terms “significant change” and “cancellation” had not previously been defined. A
The new proposal would codify the Department’s longstanding interpretation that a failure to provide refunds when a carrier cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from, or within the United States is an unfair practice. The Department is also proposing, for the first time, to define the terms significant change and cancellation.
Passengers, as long as they don’t accept an alternative mode of transportation from the airline, will be eligible for a refund in any of the following circumstances, :
- Changes that affect the departure and/or arrival times by three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight;
- Changes to the departure or arrival airport;
- Changes that increase the number of connections in the itinerary; and
- Changes to the type of aircraft flown if it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight.
Under the proposal, a canceled flight would mean a flight that was published in a carrier’s Computer Reservation System at the time of the ticket sale but was not operated by the carrier.
The proposal would also require that airlines and ticket agents provide passengers flight credits or vouchers that are valid indefinitely when passengers are unable to fly for certain pandemic related reasons, such as government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health or the health of other passengers. Further, under the proposal, airlines and ticket agents that receive significant government assistance related to a pandemic would be required to issue refunds, in lieu of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers.
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