The Department for Transport is proposing to require airlines to offer passengers a refund if their flight schedule changes significantly or if the airline makes major changes to their itinerary.
The proposed rule announced Wednesday would require airlines to give refunds if your departure or arrival time changes by three hours or more for a domestic flight or at least six hours for an international flight.
Refunds would also be due if the airline changes the passenger’s departure or arrival airport, adds stops to their itinerary, or causes a significant degradation in the travel experience by changing to a different type of aircraft.
The rule would apply even to travelers buying non-refundable tickets, which typically cost less and are favored by many leisure travellers.
The proposal comes after the department was inundated with complaints from passengers whose flights were canceled or changed or who were afraid to fly during the early months of the pandemic and couldn’t get refunds.
Airlines prefer to give travel vouchers instead of refunds.
The department is proposing to require airlines and ticketing agents to give non-expiring coupons to passengers who are told not to travel during a pandemic for health reasons or because borders are closed.
The proposal faces a public comment period and likely opposition from airlines. His trade group, Airlines for America, had no immediate comment.
Currently, airlines are required to offer refunds to passengers whose flights are canceled or significantly changed, but a cancellation or significant change has never been defined. That’s why airlines have challenged the Department of Transportation’s authority to force them to pay refunds.
When Americans buy a plane ticket, they need to get to their destination safely, reliably and affordably, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. This proposed new rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from airlines.
Consumer complaints filed with the department increased nearly sevenfold in 2020 from the previous year, with 87% involving refunds.
The department will receive public comments on the proposal for 90 days. A group that advises the department and includes consumer advocates has scheduled an online meeting to discuss the rule on Aug. 22.
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