Stranded Travelers’ Rights: DOT Tells Airlines Do Better With Customer Service or We Will Take Over

Young Woman waiting for delayed flight and sleeping on chairs.
Kemal Yildirim / Getty Images

Travelers have been faced with extremely frustrating and complicated flying experiences in recent months, largely due to a slew of cancellations and delays partially caused by labor shortages. Now, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said it is launching a website in a couple of weeks to “show each airline’s policies regarding cancellations and delays,” according to NBC.

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In addition, the DOT is urging airlines to improve their customer service “or the agency will proceed with a plan to order a rule change,” per NBC.

The announcements come on the heels of the DOT’s proposal earlier this month, which “would significantly strengthen protections for consumers seeking refunds for airline tickets,” as GOBankingRates previously reported.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that the travel disruptions were unacceptable, NBC detailed.

“The message to the airlines is that you’ve got to make it easier for passengers to understand their rights. And you’ve got to support passengers when they experience delays or cancellations,” he told the outlet.

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So far this year, 20% of U.S. flights have been delayed and 3.2% have been canceled, according to DOT data.

Earlier this month, the DOT said that while it has required airlines and ticket agents to refund travelers if airlines cancel or significantly change their flights, the terms “significant change” and “cancellation” had not previously been defined, “which has resulted in inconsistency among carriers on when passengers are entitled to refunds.”

Under the new rules, significant changes to a flight would mean:

  • Changes that affect the departure and/or arrival times by three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight.
  • Changes to the departure or arrival airport.
  • Changes that increase the number of connections in the itinerary.
  • Changes to the type of aircraft flown if it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight.

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“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Buttigieg said in an Aug. 3 DOT release. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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