Travelers at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on June 30, 2022.
Leslie Josephs | TBEN
The Department of Transport proposed stricter rules on Wednesday about when: airlines would have to compensate passengers for canceled or delayed flights, a move that follows a wave of complaints from travelers after Covid-19 put air traffic on hold.
Air travelers are currently entitled to a refund if their flights are canceled or “significantly” changed or delayed and they choose not to travel. But the agency hadn’t defined what a significant change is.
The US Department of Transportation now proposes to define that as a departure or arrival time that differs by at least three hours for domestic flights, or at least six hours for international flights. Travelers would also be entitled to a refund if the route changes or if a connection is added, as well as if a change of aircraft causes a “significant downgrade” in amenities or other functions.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has publicly admonished airlines in recent weeks over an increase in cancellations and delays, while airline executives and the Federal Aviation Administration have pointed the finger at who is to blame.
Some Democratic lawmakers have called for better consumer protections for air travelers.
Complaints about refunds from airlines accounted for 87% of the 102,560 complaints registered by the DOT in 2020 and about 60% of the 49,958 complaints in 2021.
The DOT also proposed requiring airlines to issue flight credits or vouchers with no expiration date if passengers are unable to fly due to Covid-19, including lockdowns, travel restrictions or personal health reasons.
“When Americans buy a plane ticket, they need to get to their destination safely, reliably and affordably,” Buttigieg said in a press release.
Airlines for America, which represents major airlines such as American, United, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and others, declined to comment.
The pandemic and the huge demand for air travel has prompted some airlines to make their tickets more flexible. For example, in 2020 American, United and Delta have eliminated the cost of changing tickets for standard economy tickets.
And last week, Southwest, which also didn’t charge a ticket exchange fee before the pandemic, said the vouchers it issues will never expire.
The DOT’s proposed rules are open to public comment for 90 days.