Travelers may soon have more rights if their flight is canceled or delayed, as the Department for Transport looks to “strengthen protections” for consumers seeking refunds.
The agency proposed a rule Wednesday that, if enacted, would define the terms “significant” change and cancellation for the first time.
Currently, passengers are eligible for refunds if an airline “significantly changes the schedule and/or significantly delays a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel” — although the DOT has not yet defined what which means “significant”.
Under the rule, the Department would set out significant changes such as:
- Changes affecting departure and/or arrival times by three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international flight
- Changes to the airport of departure or arrival
- Changes that increase the number of links in the itinerary; and
- Changes to the type of aircraft flown if it significantly degrades the air travel experience or air amenities available on board the flight.
The move comes amid increased complaints against airlines – most of which relate to refunds and flight service, according to data from the agency.
“I think the DOT has heard that passengers are fed up with some of the sleight of hand that airlines are pulling and some of the actions are not consumer-friendly,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmospheric Research Group, said in an interview by ABC News.
In addition, the rule would “codify the department’s long-standing interpretation that failure to provide refunds when a carrier cancels or substantially changes a flight to, from, or within the United States is an unfair practice,” the DOT said .
“The problem, I think, so far is that you don’t necessarily know as an individual traveler what a significant delay is on Delta, versus American, versus Southwest, versus Spirit — It could be different pretty much every airline,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told ABC News. “And those airlines don’t even have to specifically mention what they consider to be a significant delay.”
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, US airlines have issued $21 billion in refunds, according to Airlines for America (A4A), the lobbying group for 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. When that period ends, the 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 fully.
ABC News’ Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.