DOT Proposes New Airline Reimbursement Rules Amid Travel Chaos

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The Department of Transportation has proposed new rules to better protect travelers in the event their flight is delayed, canceled or significantly changed — a response to the “flood of air travel service complaints” the department has received since the start of the pandemic. coronavirus, he said in a news release.

By defining when a flight can be considered canceled or significantly altered, the proposal aims to close a loophole in the Department of Transportation’s ability to prevent what it considers unfair practices in the transportation industry and force carriers to reimburse consumers. who says they are victims of these practices. .

If passed, it would be “the biggest expansion of travelers’ rights in decades,” Scott Keyes, founder of a website that helps travelers find cheap flightswrote on Twitter.

So what does it mean for you?

What are the proposed rules?

Under the proposal, which is subject to a 90-day public consultation period, airlines and ticket agents would have to refund consumers when they “significantly” change their flights.

This would apply to domestic flights that are delayed by three or more hours, or international flights that are delayed by six or more hours. It will also apply if the airport of departure or arrival is changed, if additional connections are added or if the class of service or type of aircraft changes, for example, downgrading someone from business class to economy class or putting them on an aircraft with more little equipment. than expected.

If a carrier publishes a flight on its online booking system when the ticket has been sold, but ultimately does not operate the flight for any reason, it will be considered canceled under the new rules.

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

The new rules would also require airlines to issue credit without an expiration date to ticket holders who decide not to travel because they are ill or due to government travel restrictions, including, for example, the imposition of a quarantine requirement for arriving passengers. In the case of airlines receiving future government bailouts, the rule would require them to issue refunds instead of credits.

But there are limitations. For example, if someone books a flight but later new public health restrictions are put in place that would make travel “pointless,” that person would be eligible for a voucher or credit that doesn’t expire. But if someone fails to check what is needed to travel, such as PCR tests, and is unable to go, they will not qualify.

How do they differ from the current rules?

Under current rules, travelers to and from the United States are already entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly delayed and they choose not to use another option, or if they are involuntarily downgraded to a lower-level service. lower than they paid. for.

But since the Department of Transportation does not define “significant delays,” in practice, whether travelers were eligible for a refund depended on many factors “including the length of the delay, the length of the flight” and individual circumstances, he said. If a complaint is filed, the case-by-case process for the department to determine whether a refund is needed takes too long, it warns consumers.

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The lack of clarity about what constitutes a canceled or significantly delayed flight has led to “inconsistencies among carriers as to when passengers are entitled to a refund,” the Department of Transportation said in the press release.

Meanwhile, passengers who choose not to travel because they are ill or because they are particularly vulnerable to illness are generally not protected under the current rules. Because of this, people who are sick and can infect others, or those who are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill, may choose to travel anyway in order not to lose the money they spent on the ticket. theirs. “These types of actions by consumers are not in the public interest,” the department said.

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When would this come into effect?

The Transportation Department’s proposed rule has some time to go before it takes effect. After the 90-day public consultation period ends, the department will review comments and decide whether to proceed with the proposed rule as is, make changes to it, or withdraw it.

Anyone can submit a comment, including businesses that would be affected by the rule. If the rules are approved, businesses can apply for an exemption, which the department will consider only if it finds “unique circumstances not considered in rulemaking.”

What are my rights if my flight is delayed now?

Travelers have reported an increase in travel problems this summer – from canceled or delayed flights to lost luggage and strikes – as many countries eased or eliminated all pandemic-related restrictions, leading to more demand, and airports and the airlines have not been able to cope.

Nearly 550,000 flights have been delayed this year so far in the United States, according to Transportation Department data, more than double the number of such flights in all of 2021. More than 88,000 flights were canceled, or about 3.2 percent of all flights, compared to less than 1.6 percent of flights last year.

If your flight is one of these, the current rules still apply. For a flight arriving or departing from the United States, you are entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you choose not to use another option. It also applies if you are involuntarily downgraded to a lower level of service than the one you paid for.

How to get refunds from an airline if your flight is cancelled

You are also entitled to compensation if you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked and you did not voluntarily give up your seat. Airlines are allowed to prebook flights and there is no minimum they must offer when asking travelers if someone is willing to take a later flight. Passengers have reported that airlines have offered thousands of dollars to people to volunteer to be bumped from their flights.

If you are accidentally bumped, airlines must give you a form outlining your rights to compensation, which is often tied to when you arrive at your final destination. Keep in mind, most airlines require you to be checked-in or at the gate within a certain time to qualify for compensation beyond the cost of the flight.

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