WASHINGTON, D.C. – The friendly skies could get much friendlier for flyers if a U.S. Department of Transportation proposal to increase consumer protections goes into effect.
The department announced in August a proposal that would require refunds in the event of a lengthy delay or cancellation, even if the disruption of travel was caused by the weather.
Currently, there is not a uniform definition across the aviation industry for when reimbursements are required, which officials say results in inconsistencies among airlines.
According to the USDOT, the country averages more than 400,000 flights that are delayed or canceled each year.
"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 statement. "This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines."
Under the new policy, in the event of a delay of more than three hours, travelers who decide not to accept accommodations, flight credits or vouchers will be entitled to a refund.
Other significant changes that will force reimbursements include: an increase in the number of connections, changing of the arrival or departure airport and a significant downgrade in the traveling experience through a change of aircraft.
The proposal would also impact international flights. Delays that are at least six hours would be subject to the new reimbursement rules.
The proposed changes come after years of consumer complaints about non-refundable tickets going unused.
Congressional research in 2021 found major airlines were in procession of more than $10 billion in unused flight credits.
Airlines for America, an association and lobbying group that represents major airlines, previously told congressional members that if companies were forced to refund all tickets in the form of cash, many could face bankruptcy.
A4A contends many airlines already offer vouchers and travel credits that exceed government requirements.
USDOT has opened comment period to hear reactions to the proposed rule changes.
You can leave a comment by visiting: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/11/17/2022-24615/airline-ticket-refunds-and-consumer-protections