Saturday, October 1, 2022

New proposals to protect air travelers

If you have flown in commercial airplane in recent months you may have had a flight cancelled or significantly delayed. Vouchers that are good for only a year have been the standard way airlines compensated travelers—and we all know that is far from equitable. The voucher can only be used towards a future flight on that airline and the amount must be used on one flight, essentially giving the airline an interest-free loan and leaving the customer without their cash or any recourse. Getting a refund from an airline is practically impossible.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has recently proposed new rules for airlines that could work for the benefit of fliers. The public has until November 21 to offer comments that will hopefully bring about changes to protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get timely refunds they deserve. If you wish to contribute to the discussion please do so at  docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089

The proposals include four key objectives:

1.      Require airlines to provide refunds if the departure or arrival time changes by three or more hours for a domestic flight or six or more hours for an international flight.

2.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airline changes the passenger’s departure or arrival airport or adds stops to an itinerary.

3.      Require airlines to provide refunds when the airlines cause “a significant downgrade” in the travel experience by switching to a different type of plane.

4.      Require airlines to provide future travel credits that never expire when passengers can’t travel for health and safety reasons during a pandemic or because borders are closed.

The rules would also apply to tickets that are typically non-refundable, including lower-priced basic economy fares.

If enacted, the new regulations “would be the largest boost to traveler protections in years,” said Scott Keyes, founder of flight deal tracking service Scott’s Cheap Flights. After the 90-day public comment period, the DOT will consider feedback and decide how to proceed. 

Of course, airlines and their lobbyists will have plenty of opinions, which might lessen the impact for some of the proposals, so any public comments supporting the proposals should be extremely helpful in ensuring a good outcome for fliers.

Still, airlines would not be required to compensate passengers when the passenger initiates a cancellation or flight change for uncovered reasons. The only case where airlines are required to provide assistance is when a passenger is “bumped” from a flight due to it being oversold.

“Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote in a letter sent to heads of the major U.S. airlines in August.

These proposed rules come on the heels of a 34.9 percent increase from May to June in air travel service complaints from passengers to the DOT.  In fact, complaints are nearly 270% above pre-pandemic levels, not surprising considering the number of flight cancellations and disruptions in recent months. Passengers were often severely inconvenienced when airlines sold flights they did not have pilots, staff, and ground crew to properly operate.

Buttigieg even suggested that airlines should provide meal vouchers for delays of three hours or more and lodging accommodations for passengers who must wait overnight because of disruptions within the carrier's control. Didn't that used to be the norm?

For information about airline passenger rights, as well as DOT’s rules, guidance and orders, visit the Department’s aviation consumer website at

Photos from free sources. 



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