U.S. authorities want to make it easier for air travelers to get a refund when their flight is cancelled or significantly delayed.

A new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation would define the specific instances where a traveler is entitled to a refund. While a cancellation is seemingly self-explanatory, a delay of more than three hours for U.S. domestic flights or more than six hours for international flights entitles a traveler to a refund, the regulator said Wednesday. In addition, refunds are guaranteed if the arrival or departure airport is changed, the number of connections increased, or the aircraft changed to one with a “significant downgrade” in the service level.

“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably. This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

The improved protections follow a surge in refund issues during the pandemic. The number of refund-related complaints jumped nearly 67-fold to 105,292 from January 2020 to June 2021, from 1,574 in 2019, according to the DOT.

Most airlines dropped change or refund fees and restrictions during the pandemic but, in many cases, travelers faced challenges getting a cash refund versus a voucher. The issues were more pronounced with foreign carriers, which are subject to the DOT’s new rules. In recent months, some airlines have reinstituted ticket change and cancellation restrictions, especially for the cheapest fare classes.

The DOT will hold a public meeting on the proposed rules on August 22, and the public comment period is open for 90 days.


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Tags: dot, refunds