US proposal would require airlines to increase refund protections for travelers

A new proposal from the United States Transportation Department could require airlines to offer travelers a refund if their flight schedule significantly changes or if the airline makes a significant change to their travel itinerary.

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The proposal would require airlines to provide refunds if departure or arrival times changes by three hours or more for a domestic flight or a minimum of six hours for an international flight, according to The Associated Press. The refunds would be paid out if the airline changes the departure or arrival airport for the traveler, adds stops or causes some kind of downgrade. The refunds would apply for travelers who also buy nonrefundable tickets.

“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.”

The proposal was announced Wednesday. The AP said part of the reason why the Transportation Department created the proposal was because they have been “flooded with complaints” from travelers who had canceled or changed flights, were afraid to fly during the pandemic and were not able to get refunds.

According to the AP, some airlines prefer to give travelers vouchers rather than refunds. The proposal from the Transportation Department would require the airlines to give vouchers that don’t expire for passengers who are told “not to travel during a pandemic for health reasons or because borders are closed.”

The Transportation Department’s Office of Aviation is “actively” investigating refund policies for more than 10 airlines flying to, from, or within the country, according to a news release.

Public comments will be taken by the Transportation Department on the proposal for the next 90 days. There will be a meeting on August 22 with the Transportation Department, its advisors and consumer advocates, according to the AP.

For more information on airline passenger rights and the Transportation Department’s rules and other guidance, visit their website.