DOT proposes new rules for refunding airlines amid travel chaos


The Department of Transportation has proposed new rules to better protect travelers if their flight is delayed, canceled or significantly changed — in response to the “influx of air travel services complaints” the department has received since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a new version.

By specifying when a flight can be considered canceled or significantly altered, the proposal aims to fill a gap in the Transportation Administration’s ability to prevent what it considers unfair practices in the transportation industry and force carriers to refund consumers that they say are victims of such practices.

If enacted, it would be “the largest expansion of travelers’ rights in decades,” said Scott Keys, founder of a website that helps travelers find cheap flightsfor the Washington Post.

So, what does that mean to you?

What are the suggested rules?

Under the proposal, which is subject to a 90-day public consultation period, airlines and ticket agents are required to refund consumers when they change their flights “significantly”.

This applies to domestic flights that are delayed three hours or more, or international flights that are delayed six hours or more. It can also apply if the airport of departure or arrival is changed, if additional connections are added or if the class of service or type of aircraft is changed, for example, downgrading a person from business to economy class or placing them on an aircraft with fewer amenities than expected.

If a carrier posts a flight in its online reservation system when the ticket is sold but ultimately does not operate the flight for any reason, it will be considered canceled under the new rules.

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“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they must arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and at an affordable cost,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the press release. “This proposed new rule will protect the rights of travelers and help ensure that they receive the timely refunds they are entitled to from the airlines.”

The new rules will also require airlines to issue credits without an expiration date to ticket holders who decide not to travel because they are sick or due to government travel restrictions including, for example, imposing quarantine requirements for arriving passengers. In the case of airlines that receive future government bailouts, the rule will require them to issue refunds rather than credits.

But there are limitations. For example, if someone booked a flight but new public health restrictions were later imposed that would make the flight “meaningless,” that person would be entitled to an unexpired voucher or credit. But if someone fails to check what’s required for travel, like PCR tests, and can’t go, they won’t be eligible.

How is it different from the current rules?

under current rulesPassengers to and from the United States are already entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly delayed and chooses not to make another choice, or if they are forcibly downgraded to a service of a lower standard than they paid for.

But since the DOT does not define “significant delays” in practice, whether travelers are entitled to a refund depends on many factors “including the length of the delay, the length of the flight” and individual circumstances, she said. If a complaint is made, the case-by-case management process for determining whether a refund is needed is time-consuming, it warns consumers.

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The lack of clarity about what constitutes a canceled or significantly delayed flight has led to “inconsistency among airlines as to when passengers are entitled to a refund,” the Department of Transportation said in the news release. Keys argues that the discrepancy has benefited carriers, who can spot significant delays at scale to avoid having to refund travelers. “Two hours might be a big deal to me, but it might not mean anything to the airlines,” he said.

Meanwhile, passengers who choose not to travel because they are sick or because they are particularly vulnerable to contracting the disease are generally not protected under current rules. For this reason, people who are sick and can pass the infection on to others, or those who are particularly at risk of contracting a serious illness, may choose to travel anyway so as not to lose the money they spent on their ticket. “These kinds of actions by consumers are not in the public interest,” the ministry said.

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When will this take effect?

The proposed regulation from the Ministry of Transport has some time before it is enacted. After a period general advice For a period of 90 days, the administration will review the comments and decide whether to continue the proposed rule as is, make changes to it or withdraw it.

Anyone can submit a comment, including companies that will be affected by the rule. The airlines will probably try to improve it [the proposed rules] From an industry standard perspective, “says Keys. If the rules are enacted, companies can apply for an exemption, which the department will consider only if it finds “unique circumstances that were not taken into account while making the rules.”

What are my rights if my flight is delayed now?

Travelers report a jump in travel problems this summer – from canceled or delayed flights to lost baggage And strikes – as many countries have loosened or canceled all restrictions related to the pandemic, which has led to increased demand, and airports and airlines have not been able to keep up.

Nearly 550,000 trips I’m late This year so far in the United States, according to Department of Transportation data, more than double the number of such trips in all of 2021. More than 88,000 flights, or about 3.2 percent of all flights, have been canceled, compared to less than 1.6 percent of flights. last year.

If your flight is one of them, then current rules It is still valid. For a flight arriving from or departing from the United States, you are entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you choose not to make another choice. It also applies if you are involuntarily returned to a service of a lower standard than you paid for it.

How to get a refund from an airline if your flight is cancelled

You are also entitled to compensation if you are denied boarding because your flight was overcrowded and you did not volunteer to give up your seat. Airlines are allowed to overbook flights, and there is no minimum you must provide when asking travelers if anyone is willing to take a subsequent flight. Passengers informed That airlines offered thousands of dollars to people to volunteer to be bumped from their flights.

If you experience involuntary shocks, airlines must give you a form detailing your rights to compensation, which are often linked when you reach your final destination. Keep in mind that most airlines require you to check in or at the gate at a certain time to be eligible for compensation beyond the cost of the flight.