DOT Wants to Give Flyers More Rights Who Ask for Airline Refunds

August 4, 2022

Airliner Cabin

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing a rule that would offer more protection for consumers who have purchased airline tickets but have not been able to use them because the airline has canceled their flight, changed the time or route of the flight, or because the passenger has decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons.

Historically, airlines and ticket agents have been required by the Department of Transportation to refund travelers if the airline cancels or significantly changes their flights. However, there was no clear definition of what constituted a significant change or cancellation, which led to inconsistency among carriers on when passengers were entitled to refunds.

The Department has now made these terms more clear, so that passengers will be more certain when they are entitled to a reimbursement/refund.

“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”

Changes to a Flight That Result in the Right to a Refund Will Become a Lot More Clear

A 'significant change' to a flight will now become more clearly defined, and thus give flyers a right to compensation and/or a refund. These are the new rules as proposed by the DOT:

  • 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...
  • Changes to the type of aircraft flown if it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight.
  • A canceled flight would be defined as one that was advertised in a carrier's Computer Reservation System at the time of purchase but was not operated by the airline.

    If the proposal is approved, airlines and ticket agents would be required to provide passengers with flight credits or vouchers that are valid indefinitely in certain cases.

    These cases would include government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel for their health or the health of others. Airlines and ticket agents that receive significant government assistance related to a pandemic would also be required to issue refunds instead of travel credits or vouchers.

    Joint statement by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee:

    “The Department of Transportation’s proposed airline refunds rule is a welcome development after thousands of flight cancellations and delays over the past few months,” said the Senators. “We are encouraged that the rule appears to align with our previous recommendations, including by clarifying the circumstances in which the airlines must provide a prompt refund to consumers, defining the term ‘significant change’, and increasing rights for travelers who are unable to travel due to public health concerns. We look forward to working with DOT to ensure the final rule includes strong consumer protections that will reduce headaches for passengers and requires airlines to deliver the effective and accountable service that travelers deserve.”

    SGF Take: Great move, period. Running an airline can (and is) especially challenging, no doubt. But this proposed rule gives flyers the clear tools and recourse to say, 'you didn't give me what I paid for. I want my money back.' I do not see how this is unfair for the carriers. Give your customers what they paid for.

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