Frequent Fliers Could Enjoy New Rules on Airline Ticket Refunds and Cancellations From DOT

New York, March 16, 2017: An American Airlines jet late in the day at gate 14 Terminal 8 at JFK.
400tmax / Getty Images

Flying has become increasingly frustrating and complicated as of late, given more frequent cancellations and delays partly due to labor shortages. In light of this, the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced a proposal which “would significantly strengthen protections for consumers seeking refunds for airline tickets.”

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“Since early 2020, the Department has received a flood of air travel service complaints from consumers with non-refundable tickets who did not travel because airlines canceled or significantly changed their flights or because the consumers decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons such as health concerns,” the DOT said in a press release on Aug. 3.

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, 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,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the release. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”

In addition, the proposal would also require “that airlines and ticket agents provide passengers flight credits or vouchers that are valid indefinitely when passengers are unable to fly for certain pandemic related reasons, such as government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health or the health of other passengers,” according to the release. Finally, under the new rules, airlines and ticket agents receiving significant government assistance related to a pandemic would be required to issue refunds, instead of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers.

The rules would be “the largest expansion of travelers’ rights in decades,” said travel expert Scott Keyes, per The Washington Post.

So far this year, 88,000 flights have been canceled and 550,000 have been delayed, according to DOT data. Said figure represents a sharp increase from 2021’s total of 238,485 flight delays and 33,000 canceled flights.

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The DOT is seeking comments from the public concerning the proposed rules, which must be received within the next 90 days.

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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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