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Travel demand is close to pre-pandemic levels, but airline staff shortages have caused a spike in delays, cancellations and angry customers. In response to air travel service complaints, the US Department of Transportation has proposed new rules to better protect travelers.
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“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they need to get to their destination safely, reliably and affordably,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a press release. “This new proposed rule would protect travelers’ rights and help them get the timely refunds they deserve from airlines.”
Under current rules, US airlines are required to pay refunds and flight vouchers for cancellations and “significant changes” to flight schedules, the LA Times reported. However, the definition of “significant changes” is left open to interpretation. Because of this, refund policies vary, according to consumer advocates.
The new rule will define a “significant change” as a change in departure and/or arrival time of three hours or more for a domestic flight and six hours or more for an international flight, the LA Times noted . This also includes a change in departure or arrival airport, an increase in the number of connecting flights and a change in aircraft type if the passenger experience is reduced.
If travelers are unable to fly for pandemic-related reasons, then flight credits or vouchers will be valid indefinitely. The LA Times added that the rule would require airlines to give refunds instead of vouchers or travel credits if the airline “received significant government assistance related to a pandemic.”
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If the new rule is passed, it would be “the biggest expansion of travelers’ rights in decades,” Scott Keyes, founder of a website that helps travelers find cheap flights, told the Washington Post.
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