The U.S. Department of Transportation has set out new rules that would make it easier for airline passengers to claim a full cash refund when their flight is canceled or significantly delayed.
Under the DOT’s proposal, passengers would be entitled to claim a full refund if they choose not to travel when a domestic flight is delayed by more than three hours and, in the case of international flights if the flight is delayed by at least six hours.
For many years, airlines have been required to offer refunds for canceled or significantly altered flights but the DOT had never bothered to define what these terms meant and that resulted in airlines choosing their own definitions.
With this proposed rulemaking, the DOT will finally define these terms so that consumers know exactly when they are entitled to a refund.
In addition to defining the length of delay that could trigger a refund, the DOT has also set out other ‘significant changes’ that make passengers eligible to claim a refund if they choose to cancel their travel plans:
- When the departure or arrival airport is changed
- Changes to connections in the itinerary
- An aircraft swap that would result in a “significant downgrade in the air travel experience” or “amenities available onboard”
A canceled flight would simply mean any flight that was published in the airline’s computer reservation system which was never actually operated.
“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” commented DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday.
“This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” Buttigieg continued.
Last November, the DOT won a record settlement from Air Canada over its ‘no refund’ policy during the pandemic and now the department is strengthening consumer protections in the event of another pandemic.
Under the proposal, the DOT will force airlines to provide passengers flight credits or vouchers when they are unable to fly for pandemic-related reasons – such as border closures, stay-at-home rules or quarantine requirements. The flight credits will have no expiry date.
Airlines that seek and win a government bailout, however, would instead be required to offer consumers a full refund in lieu of travel vouchers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.