US wants to make it easier for people to get airline refunds

Travel

5 Aug, 2022 05:00 AM3 minutes to read

A US federal agency has proposed rule changes to make it easier for passengers to claim refunds for disrupted flights.

Wrangling a refund from an airline for a delayed or cancelled flight can be a nightmare but in America, the Department of Transportation wants to make it easier.

On Wednesday the government agency announced proposed changes to federal agency rules that would allow passengers to seek a refund from their airline if their itinerary is significantly altered.

Under the proposed change, passengers could seek a refund if the following occurs to their domestic flight:
- The arrival or departure time is delayed by three hours or more
- The arrival or departure airport is changed
- Connections are added or changed to the flight itinerary
- The type of plane is changed, "if it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight."

These changes would also increase consumer protections for those who are unable to fly due to pandemic-related reasons, even if they had nonrefundable tickets.

Passengers would be entitled to travel credits or vouchers that do not expire or, if the airline received significant government financial assistance, a full refund.

New rules proposed to fix lagging airline disruption

Previously, airlines only had to refund passengers if they "significantly change" a flight.

However, the world of air travel has changed a lot in the last three years and flight schedules are increasingly prone to change or cancellation.

Since the start of the pandemic, the department said they had received a "flood" of complaints from passengers whose flights were delayed, cancelled or affected by Covid-19.

In June and July alone, around 40,000 flights were cancelled according to data from FlightAware.

In June, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told airline CEOs to fix the summer flight schedules but told CNN the proposed changes had "been in the works for some time".

The department itself has received pressure to crack down on airlines and protect consumers.

In late July Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Alex Padilla of California demanded the department use their authority more "aggressively".

A group of lawmakers also wrote a letter asking them to force airlines to pay fines and compensate passengers when flights were overbooked.

On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said the department needed to "increase its oversight and regulation of airlines that are skirting the rules and causing disruptions for travellers."

According to James, this should involve requiring airlines to provide full or partial refunds for cancelled and rescheduled flights.

They should also be limited to only selling flights they have enough staffing for, said James.