US DOT Seeks to Strengthen Air Travelers’ Claims for Refunds, When Flights are Cancelled or Much Delayed
By Yehudit Garmaise
Air travelers whose who bought non-refundable tickets over the pandemic were out of luck when their plans changed or when flights were canceled or significantly changed, but the US Department of Transportation (DOT) is trying to help.
Not only has the DOT’s Office of Aviation and Consumer Protection issued an airline its largest fine ever for failing to provide refunds to thousands of consumers whose flights were canceled, but the office is investigating the refund practices of more than 10 airlines.
In addition, the DOT is clarifying for airlines the terms “significantly change” and “cancel,” so that airlines must reimburse customers based on a clear set of rules.
Under the DOT’s newly transparent terms, a “canceled flight” would mean a flight that did not take place, even though it was published in a carrier’s Computer Reservation System at the time of the ticket sale.
In addition, “significant changes to a flight” that require refunds would be defined as:
• Changes that affect the departure or arrival times by three hours or more for domestic flights.
• Changes that affect departure or arrival times by six hours or more for international flights.
• Changes to the airports for departures or arrivals.
• Changes that increase the number of a flight’s connections.
• Changes to the types of aircraft if that change causes “significant downgrades in the air travel experience.”
In addition, when passengers are unable to fly for health or pandemic-related reasons, such as doctors’ advice not to travel, government-mandated bans on travel, and closed borders, the DOT also proposed to require that airlines and ticket agents provide passengers with flight credits or vouchers that are valid indefinitely.
But airlines and ticket agents that received significant pandemic-related government assistance, the DOT added, would be required to issue cash refunds and not just non-expiring travel credits and vouchers.
“When Americans buy airline tickets, they should get to their destinations 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.”