The Department of Transportation is seeking public comments on when airlines should be required to give passengers refunds.
In an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking released Wednesday, the DOT said the proposed policy would offer travelers added protection if their flights are canceled or significantly delayed.
“Since early 2020, the Department has received a flood of air travel service complaints from consumers with non-refundable tickets who did not travel because airlines canceled or significantly changed their flights or because the consumers decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons such as health concerns, “said a statement announcing the public comment period.
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“This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.
DOT’s current airline refund policy
The existing rules can be confusing for travelers. Passengers are definitely entitled to a refund from their airline – even if they purchased a non-refundable ticket – if their flight is canceled, but the requirements around delays are much more vague.
According to the DOT, passengers should receive a refund if their trip encounters a “significant delay,” but even the Department’s own website acknowledges that, under current rules, there’s no clear definition for what counts as significant.
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That leaves travelers at the mercy of individual airlines, which have wide latitude within the existing regulations to outline and implement their own compensation structures.
What are the proposed new airline refund rules?
The policies DOT is seeking comments on aim to make the regulations more clear and user-friendly.
Changes include officially defining “significant” to mean schedule changes of 3 hours or more for domestic flights, and 6 hours or more for international flights, either for departures or arrivals. In any of those cases, passengers would be entitled to refunds under the new rules.
Refund eligibility would be extended to include changes to the departure or arrival airport, itineraries that are altered to include more connections, or changes to the kind of airplane assigned to the flight, if the new aircraft “causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard. ”
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In addition, passengers would become eligible for vouchers that would not be allowed to expire if they are unable to fly due to “pandemic related reasons,” including being sick or government restrictions on travel.
Any airline or ticket agent who received pandemic-related bailout money would be required to issue cash refunds, rather than vouchers, under the new rules.
How to comment
Interested members of the public can comment online.
Other options for commenting include:
- Mail: Docket Management Facility, US Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC, 20590-0001.
- Hand Delivery or Courier: West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave. SE, Washington, DC, between 9 am and 5 pm ET, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
- Fax: (202) 493-2251
All comments not submitted through the online portal must reference docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089.