The Department of Transportation is considering a policy change that would make it easier for air passengers to get reimbursed for significant changes to their travel plans, including cancellations, major delays, rerouted flights, additional connections, and changes to seat class or aircraft if passengers are left with fewer amenities than promised at booking. According to a news release, the agency opened up the proposal to a 90-day public comment period.
One of the biggest questions the proposed policy change would address is what constitutes a significant delay. Travelers flying in and out of the US are already entitled to reimbursement in the event of flight cancellations, major delays, and downgrades in service, but refunds are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and what’s considered a significant disruption is nebulous. Under the new rules, a significant delay would be defined as three or more hours for domestic flights and six or more hours for international flights. Any flight that was logged in an airline’s Computer Reservation System when a ticket was purchased but was not ultimately operated would officially be considered canceled.
The new rules would also require airlines to issue non-expiring flight credits or vouchers to passengers whose travel plans are impacted by the pandemic, such as if they become sick or due to government-imposed travel restrictions. Any airline that receives significant federal pandemic aid would be required to issue refunds, rather than credits or vouchers.
The proposed policy change comes following a summer of trying air travel, one marked by countless cancellations and delays that caught the attention of the federal government. In the news release published earlier this month, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably. This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”