Airline passengers would have an easier time getting refunds for delayed and canceled flights if a proposed rule introduced by the U.S. Department of Transportation Thursday is adopted.
For years, the department has required airlines to refund passengers for flights that are canceled or significantly changed, but it has not defined those terms. This led to inconsistencies between airlines in giving refunds to flyers.
“This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
Under the proposed rule, the term “significant change” would apply to:
• Changes that alter arrival or departure by three hours or more for domestic flights.
• Changes that alter arrival or departure by six hours or more for international flights.
• Changes that increase the number of connections for the flight.
• Changes that downgrade the plane significantly in terms of flight experience and amenities.
Cancellation would refer to flights that were in an airline’s reservation system at the time a ticket was purchased but did not occur.
For pandemic-related alterations like closed borders and government travel bans, airlines and ticket agents would be required to provide vouchers that would be valid indefinitely.
Airlines and ticket agents that received pandemic-related government assistance would be required to provide refunds in lieu of vouchers.
Failure by an airline to provide a refund under the above circumstances would qualify as an “unfair practice,” which the DOT is allowed to prohibit.
The public-comment period ends on Nov. 1.
The DOT proposal comes in light of criticism of airlines from both the public and the government.
On Monday, a group of members of Congress introduced the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act, which would codify the existing DOT rule (without the new clarifications) and would also give passengers a right to a refund if they cancel their flight up until 48 hours before the flight’s departure.
“Travelers are sick of wasting their valuable time fighting the airlines to receive their legally-required cash refunds. … These airlines must get their heads out of the clouds and deliver the effective and accountable service that travelers deserve,” Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said in a statement.
Southwest Airlines got ahead of the government by eliminating all expiration dates for its flight credits starting last Thursday.