Travelers may soon have more rights if their flight is canceled or delayed as the Department of Transportation seeks to “strengthen” protections for consumers seeking refunds.
The agency proposed a rule on Wednesday that, if enacted, would define the terms of a “meaningful” change and first-time cancellation.
Currently, passengers are entitled to refunds if an airline has “significantly altered its schedules and/or significantly delayed a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel” – although the DOT has not yet defined what “ significant” means.
Under the rule, the department would describe material changes as follows:
- Changes affecting departure and/or arrival times of three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight
- Change of departure or arrival airport
- Changes that increase the number of connections in the route; and
- Changes to the type of aircraft used if this results in a significant degradation of the air travel experience or the amenities available on board the flight.
The move comes amid an increase in complaints against airlines – the majority of which relate to refunds and flight service, according to agency data.
“I think the DOT has heard that passengers are tired of the sleight of hand that the airlines are doing and some actions that are not consumer-friendly,” said Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst for the airline. trip to Atmosphere Research Group, in a statement. interview with ABC News.
Further, the rule would “codify the department’s long-standing interpretation that failure to reimburse when a carrier cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from, or within the United States is a practice unfair,” the DOT said.
“The problem, I think, so far is that you, as a solo traveler, don’t necessarily know what a significant delay is on Delta, versus American, versus Southwest, versus to Spirit. It could be very different on every airline,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told ABC News. “And these airlines don’t even necessarily explicitly mention what they consider to be a long delay.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, US airlines have issued $21 billion in cash refunds, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the group that lobbies on behalf of all major US airlines. Cash refunds accounted for 8% of passenger revenue in 2021 and 22.3% of passenger revenue in 2020, compared to 4.3% in 2019, A4A said.
The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed rule. After that period, DOT will review and analyze the comments, then decide whether to proceed with a final rule as proposed or with modifications, issue a new or modified proposal, or withdraw the proposal altogether.
ABC News’ Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.