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Transportation Dept. Proposes Changes to Federal Policy on Flight Refunds

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Amid an infuriating summer for air travel, the Department of Transportation is proposing changes to federal policy that guide flight refunds, providing more recourse for passengers when airlines cancel flights or significantly alter a flight’s schedule, route or seat categories.

The rule, which the agency will choose after a 90-day public comment period closes, would also require U.S. carriers that received pandemic aid to issue a full refund if a passenger chooses to not travel due to certain coronavirus-related aspects, reminiscent of a rustic shutting all the way down to nonessential travel.

“This latest proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” said Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, in a statement on Wednesday announcing the proposal.

Under the present Department of Transportation policy, airlines are already presupposed to reimburse passengers for flights which were canceled or “significantly modified.” But carriers have been accused of exploiting each the paradox across the term “significantly modified” and the incontrovertible fact that many air travelers have no idea that they’re entitled to refunds, as an alternative of credits, for canceled flights.

The proposed policy defines “significantly modified” as a three-hour delay for a domestic flight and a six-hour delay for a global flight. The brand new rule would also entitle passengers to full refunds for any switch within the departure or destination airport, the addition of a layover or a change in aircraft that causes a major downgrade in seat class. This week, several Democratic senators, including Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, each of Massachusetts, introduced a bill with similar protections.

Air travel for a lot of has been frustrating throughout the pandemic, but over the past 12 months the variety of delays and cancellations has increased, affecting hundreds of passengers wanting to travel after two years of restrictions and closures.

Around 20 percent of flights on U.S. carriers have been delayed this 12 months, 6 percent greater than the airlines’ performance over the previous two years, in line with FlightAware, a flight-tracking company. On high-travel weekends, airlines have canceled flights 4 times as often as they did in 2019.

Many stranded or delayed travelers have complained in regards to the tortuous process required to acquire refunds.

“It’s theft, mainly,” said Kathryn T. Jones, 64, a nonprofit grant author from Austin, Texas, who says she’s fed up with airlines altering flights without offering adequate compensation.

In June, United Airlines notified Ms. Jones that her layover at Newark Liberty International Airport, for a September flight from Austin to Dublin, had modified. When she checked out her itinerary, she discovered that the aircraft on the Newark-to-Dublin leg had also been modified and not contained premium economy seats, an upgrade she had paid extra for as a way to sit near fewer people. When she tried to get a refund as a way to purchase a seat on one other airline, she said, the airline told her that she could only receive a credit. That policy would change under the brand new rule.

“I believe it’s absolutely needed,” Ms. Jones said of the proposed rule clarifying when airlines could be required to issue refunds.

The Department of Transportation proposal also requires airlines that received significant federal assistance early within the pandemic, reminiscent of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and United, to issue full refunds when passengers cannot fly for certain virus-related reasons. All airlines could be required, on the minimum, to offer vouchers that don’t expire when travelers cannot fly for the pandemic-related reasons outlined under the proposal.

On Aug. 22, the Department of Transportation will hold a web-based public meeting to debate the proposed changes.

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