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Proposed rule would refund passengers for delayed and canceled flights

We’ve shared some tips with you this summer of navigating what can be a hectic flying experience. What we can’t do is keep airlines from canceling or delaying flights. But under a proposed rule from the Transportation Department, airlines would be required to give passengers refunds if they are delayed more than 3 hours for domestic flights or 6 hours for international ones. Technically, airlines are already required to offer refunds for canceled or significantly changed flights, but because the Transportation Department has never formally defined the terms, they typically offer vouchers instead.

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

The rule would also require refunds for:

  • 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.

In the early stages of the pandemic, passengers whose flights were canceled received travel credits that had expiration dates. As border closures continued, airlines often extended those dates, but there were still plenty of travelers whose credits expired unused. The proposed rule would require credits with no expiration dates under similar circumstances where there were government-mandated travel bans, closed borders or health advisories against travel.

The rule would define a canceled flight as “a covered flight that was listed in the carrier’s Computer Reservation System at the time the ticket was sold to a consumer but was not operated by the carrier.” The reason for cancellation, be it mechanical, air traffic control or weather-related would make no difference.

“The package contains both enhanced consumer protections that ASTA has advocated for,” Eben Peck, executive vice president of the American Society of Travel Advisors said.

The Transportation Department will take public comment on the proposed rule until Nov. 1. The Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee will hold a virtual public meeting on the proposal on Aug. 22. Airlines for America, the industry’s advocacy group, has not commented publicly but is expected to oppose the rule. Should it be enacted as proposed, the rule could make that long wait for a flight a little less painful.


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