Transportation Dept. proposes new airline refund rules

After "a flood of air travel service complaints" the Department of Transportation is proposing offering more recourse to airline passengers who have to deal with flight cancelations or significant changes to travel plans.

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

A virtual public hearing has been scheduled for Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, for the public to weigh in on the proposed rules.

Regarding airline ticket refunds, the department proposes to require carriers and ticket agents to provide requested refunds to passengers when a carrier cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from, or within the United States.

The department says its existing rule has not defined the terms "significant change" and "cancellation" leaving airlines to interpret it how they see fit.

The new rule would define cancellation and significant change, including addressing whether new itineraries involving delayed arrivals or early departures of a certain length or additional stops constitute a significant change requiring a refund.

A "significant change of flight itinerary" will be designated as a change to a flight itinerary where the flier is scheduled to depart three or more hours earlier or later for domestic trips and six hours or more for international travel.  It also would cover passengers who are required to go to a different airport to fly or the flight lands at an unplanned airport.  It would also cover situations where the airline adds more connections than the original schedule and if the passenger is downgraded to a lower class of service or if there is a significant downgrade of available amenities and travel experienes on the trip.

The proposal would require airlines to inform passengers that they can be issued a full refund instead of just offering travel credits or vouchers.

The new rules would require non-expiring travel credit or voucher to anyone who has been advised in writing by a medical professional not to travel because they may have contracted a serious communicable disease whether there is a public health emergency.

The new rules allow airlines to charge cancelation fees.  The limits of those fees are not included in the proposed rules.

The virtual meeting will be held on Monday, August 22, 2022, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time.

The meeting is open to the public. Requests to attend the meeting must be submitted here.

Regulators encourage anyone interested in taking part in the Zoom meeting to register by Monday, August 15, 2022.