The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) has proposed a requirement for airlines to offer a refund to passengers whose flights have been significantly delayed, changed, or canceled. The department invites the public to share their comments on the subject.
The proposed rule would require airlines to refund passengers “if their departure or arrival time changes by three hours or more for a domestic flight or at least six hours for an international one.”
Refunds would also be required if the airline switches the passenger’s departure or arrival airport, adds stops in their itinerary, or causes “a significant downgrade” in the overall trip experience by switching to a different type of plane.
Travelers who buy nonrefundable tickets would even be protected under this rule. Nonrefundable tickets usually cost less than refundable ones.
Although airlines are currently required to provide a refund to passengers whose flights have been “significantly changed or canceled,” those terms have never been explicitly defined, giving airlines room to push back against the rule. Therefore, the proposed rule seeks to “codify” what the DOT considers unfair business practices.
Airlines typically prefer to offer limited-time vouchers or credit rather than outright refunds. In 2020, approximately 87% of airline complaints filed with the DOT were about refunds, WFAA reported.
The proposed rule would require airlines and ticket agents to offer non-expiring vouchers for passengers who “are told not to travel during a pandemic for health reasons or because borders are closed.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release, “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”
The proposed rule will be open to public comments for 90 days and will likely face opposition from the airline companies. A group that serves as an advisory to the department and includes consumer advocates will host an online meeting on August 22 to discuss the proposed rule.
Consumers can submit comments on the proposed rule here.