New airline refund rules could be coming. Here’s what that would mean for you.


The Department for Transport has proposed new rules to better protect travelers in the event their flight is delayed, canceled or otherwise significantly changed – a response to the “deluge of air service complaints” the department has since received the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he said in a press release.

By defining when a flight can be considered canceled or significantly altered, the proposal aims to fill a gap in the Department of Transportation’s ability to prevent what it considers unfair practices in the transportation industry and to force carriers to reimburse consumers who they believe are victims of these practices. .

If passed, it would be the “biggest extension of travelers’ rights in decades”, Scott Keyes, founder of a website that helps travelers find cheap flightswrote on Twitter.

So what does this mean for you?

What are the proposed rules?

Under the proposal, which is subject to a 90-day public comment period, airlines and ticket agents would have to reimburse consumers when they “significantly” change their flights.

This would apply to domestic flights delayed by three hours or more or international flights delayed by six hours or more. This would also apply if the departure or arrival airport is changed, additional connections are added, or the class of service or aircraft type is changed, for example, downgrading someone from business class to economy class or put them on a plane with fewer amenities. provided that.

If a carrier published a flight in its online booking system when the ticket was sold but ultimately did not operate the flight for whatever reason, it would be considered canceled under the new rules.

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“When Americans buy a plane ticket, they need to get to their destination safely, reliably and affordably,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the news release. “This proposed new rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from airlines.”

The new rules would also require airlines to issue credits with no expiry date to ticket holders who decide not to travel because they are ill or due to government travel restrictions, including, for example, the imposition of a quarantine requirement for arriving passengers. In the case of airlines that receive future government bailouts, the rule would require them to issue refunds rather than credits.

But there are restrictions. For example, if someone books a flight but new public health restrictions are later imposed which would render the trip ‘meaningless’, that person would be entitled to a voucher or credit with no expiry date. . But if someone doesn’t check what’s needed to travel, like PCR tests, and can’t go, they won’t be eligible.

How do they differ from the current rules?

Under current rules, travelers to and from the US are already entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly delayed and they choose not to choose another option, or if they are involuntarily downgraded to a lower level of service than they paid for. for.

But because the Department of Transportation does not define “significant delay,” in practice whether travelers were entitled to a refund depended on many factors “including length of delay, length of flight” and individual circumstances, did he declare. If a complaint is filed, the department’s case-by-case process to determine whether a refund is necessary takes a long time, he warns consumers.

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The lack of clarity on what constitutes a canceled or significantly delayed flight has led to “inconsistency between carriers as to when passengers are entitled to refunds,” the Department for Transport said in the press release.

Meanwhile, passengers who choose not to travel because they are ill or because they are particularly at risk of falling ill are generally not protected by the current rules. For this reason, people who are sick and at risk of infecting others, or those who are particularly at risk of becoming seriously ill, may choose to travel anyway so as not to lose the money they have spent on their ticket. “These types of consumer actions are not in the public interest,” the department said.

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When would this come into effect?

The rule proposed by the Ministry of Transport still has some time before it can be enacted. At the end of the 90-day public comment period, the ministry will consider the comments and decide whether to maintain the proposed rule as is, make changes or withdraw it.

Anyone can submit a comment, including companies that would be affected by the rule. If the rules are enacted, companies can apply for an exemption, which the department will only consider if it finds “unique circumstances not considered when developing the rules”.

What are my rights if my flight is delayed now?

Travelers have reported an increase in travel problems this summer – from canceled or delayed flights to lost luggage and strikes – as many countries eased or eliminated all pandemic-related restrictions, leading to an increase in demand, and the airports and airlines have been unable to cope.

So far, nearly 550,000 flights have been delayed this year in the United States, according to Department of Transportation data, more than doubling those flights in 2021. More than 88,000 flights have been canceled, or about 3 .2% of all flights, compared to less than 1.6% of flights last year.

If your flight is one of them, the current rules still apply. For a flight to or from the United States, you are entitled to a refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed and you choose not to choose another option. This also applies if you are unintentionally downgraded to a lower tier service than you paid for.

How to get a refund from an airline if your flight is canceled

You are also entitled to compensation if you were denied boarding because your flight was overbooked and you did not volunteer to give up your seat. Airlines are allowed to overbook flights, and there’s no minimum they have to offer when asking travelers if anyone is willing to catch a later flight. Passengers have reported airlines offering thousands of dollars to people who volunteer to be kicked off their flights.

If you are evicted involuntarily, airlines should give you a form detailing your rights to compensation, which is often tied to when you arrive at your final destination. Keep in mind that most airlines require you to be checked in or at the gate by a certain time to qualify for compensation beyond the cost of the flight.

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