Travel Protection: New Proposal Could Make Refunds for Cancelled Flights More Efficient

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Travel demand is near pre-pandemic levels, but airline staffing shortages have caused an increase in delays, cancellations and angry customers. In response to air travel service complaints, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules to better protect travelers.

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

Under current rules, U.S. 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” has been left open to interpretation. Because of this, refund policies vary, according to consumer advocates.

The new rule would define a “significant change” as a change to the departure and/or arrival time by 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 to the departure or arrival airport, an increase in the number of connecting flights and a change to the type of aircraft if the passenger’s experience is reduced.

If travelers can’t fly for pandemic-related reasons, then flight credits or vouchers would 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 enacted, it would be “the largest 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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