Airline customers could finally get compensation for flight delays under a US Department of Transportation proposal

  • The US Department of Transportation has proposed a new rule that defines “significant delays” for air travel.
  • Passengers would be entitled to a refund for delays that arrive or depart three or more hours late.
  • The agency also proposed a rule that would eliminate expiration dates on travel credits and vouchers.

Airline customers may finally get compensation for flight delays, which is already a passenger right in the European Union

On Wednesday, the US Department of Transportation proposed a new rule that would force carriers to compensate passengers for delays on flights operating to, from, or within the US. Currently, the agency says customers are entitled to a refund for cancelations or “significant” delays but does not outline how long the delay must be. 

The new, more strict policy would define “delay” and give customers more clarity on when they are entitled to compensation. Specifically, new protections would extend to any of the following situations:

  1. The scheduled departure or arrival time is delayed three hours or more for domestic flights or six hours or more for international flights
  2. The airline changes the customer’s arrival or departure airport
  3. The itinerary is changed to add more connecting points than the original booking
  4. The passenger is downgraded to a lower class of service, like first to economy
  5. The airline changes the aircraft type that has a “significant downgrade of the available amenities and travel experiences”

“Since early 2020, the Department has received a 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 agency said in a statement

There were about 89,500 refund-related complaints in 2020 and about 29,500 in 2021, according to the DOT.

In addition to delay compensation, the agency’s proposed rulemaking includes requirements for airlines and third-party ticket agents to notify customers of their entitlement to a refund before offering travel credit or vouchers.

This comes shortly after a group of senators proposed a new bill on Monday that would require airlines to give customers a cash refund for canceled or “significantly delayed” flights instead of a voucher or travel credit, which has many times become the default, according to the group. 

“Just as hotels often allow consumers to cancel their reservation and receive a full refund, the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act would extend a similar requirement for air travel,” Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said in a press release. “These airlines must get their heads out of the clouds and deliver the effective and accountable service that travelers deserve.”

The DOT has also proposed a new rule that would require airlines to issue vouchers and credits without expiration dates for COVID-19-related reasons, like illness or government lockdowns. 

Southwest Airlines got ahead of the DOT’s rulemaking last week when it announced its vouchers would no longer expire. 

The proposals are open for public comment through Nov. 1. 

The new rulemaking comes as flight delays skyrocket during the busy travel summer season. According to Flight Aware data, about 586,000 flights flying into, out of, or within the US have been canceled or delayed since May 1.

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