The stress put on the travel ecosystem, and travelers, since the spring is spurring moves to give consumers a little more protection when their plans are impacted.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a new rule that would make it easier for travelers to be compensated for when a flight is canceled or heavily delayed. The DOT said the proposal was inspired by a “flood” of consumer complaints over mistreatment from airlines since early 2020.
“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”
Currently, the rule is that travelers can get some kind of compensation if there is a “significant delay” in their plans. However, the DOT has never specifically defined what a “significant delay” means. Instead, it determined whether a passenger was able to get a refund on a case-by-case basis, which led to inconsistency among carriers when it came to issuing refunds.
The proposal on Wednesday would finally define the rule—the DOT wants to define it as a departure or arrival time that’s off by at least three hours for a domestic flight or six hours for an international flight.
Travelers who experience those kinds of delays, changes to their departure or arrival airport, changes that increase the number of connections on a flight, or changes to the type of aircraft flown that downgrades the travel experience, would be offered refunds or compensation under the new DOT proposal.
Wednesday’s proposal would go a step further and would codify “cancellation” as a “flight that was published in a carrier’s Computer Reservation System at the time of the ticket sale but was not operated by the carrier.”
The DOT also wants airlines to provide flight credits or vouchers that are “valid indefinitely” when passengers have to change plans for “certain pandemic-related reasons, such as government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health.” That was a major pain point for so many consumers during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DOT said that the proposal was made, in part because of the “flood of air travel service complaints from consumers with non-refundable tickets who did not travel because airlines canceled or significantly changed their flights or because the consumers decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons such as health concerns.”
The next step for the DOT is an Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee meeting scheduled on Aug. 22.