The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing new rules that would offer more refunds to air travelers when their flight is either delayed significantly or cancelled.
USDOT says the plan “would significantly strengthen protections for consumers seeking refunds for airline tickets.” It comes as many travelers filed complaints after a busy summer holiday season that was rampant with flight delays and cancellations.
For several years, the DOT has required 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, which has resulted in inconsistency among carriers on when passengers are entitled to refunds.
DOT said this 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 DOT proposes that “significant changes” to a flight would include:
- 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.