DOT rule would require airlines to issue refunds for domestic flights delayed by 3 hours

Travelers could soon have more rights if their flight is canceled or delayed, as the Department for Transport seeks to “strengthen” protections for consumers seeking refunds.

The agency proposed a rule Wednesday that, if enacted, would define the terms of a “significant” change and cancellation for the first time.

Passengers are currently entitled to refunds if an airline has “made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays 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 significant changes as:

  • Changes that affect departure and/or arrival times in three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight
  • Changes in departure or arrival airport
  • Changes that increase the number of connections in the itinerary; Y
  • Changes in the type of aircraft flown if it causes a significant degradation in the air travel experience or in the amenities available on board the flight.
PHOTO: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks while visiting the Commercial Driver's License Training Program at Lehigh Carbon Community College in North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania, on August 2, 2022.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks while visiting the Commercial Driver’s License Training Program at Lehigh Carbon Community College in North Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania, on August 2, 2022.

Matt Smith/Shutterstock

The move comes amid a surge in complaints against airlines, most of which concern refunds and flight services, according to agency data.

“I think the DOT has heard that passengers are fed up with some of the sleight of hand that the airlines are doing and some of the actions that are not consumer-friendly,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere. Research Group, in a statement. interview with ABC News.

Additionally, the rule would “codify the department’s long-standing interpretation that failing to provide refunds when an airline cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from, or within the United States is an unfair practice,” the DOT said.

“I think the problem so far has been that you as an individual traveler don’t necessarily know what a significant delay is at Delta, versus American, versus Southwest, versus Spirit — it could be significantly different on each airline.” . Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told ABC News. “And those airlines don’t even necessarily explicitly mention what they consider to be a significant 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 major US carriers. Cash refunds represented 8% of passenger revenue in 2021 and 22.3% of passenger revenue in 2020, up from 4.3% in 2019, A4A said.

The public will have 90 days to comment on the proposed rule. After that period ends, DOT will review and analyze the comments, and 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.

Sam Sweeney of ABC News contributed to this report.

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