RELEASE: Airlines to disclose fees up front, give automatic refunds for cancellations, delays

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DOT also wants to ban fees for young children to sit with parent or caretaker

WASHINGTON – The White House and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) on Wednesday announced wide-sweeping consumer protection rules targeting aspects of air travel that have infuriated travelers for years: refunds that are delayed or never issued, surprise fees, flights that are significantly delayed or changed, and more.

“DOT calls these ‘protections’ but they’re really just commonsense policies that should have existed years and years ago,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog Teresa Murray“We credit Secretary Pete Buttigieg for pushing to require the industry to do the right thing after many players have refused to refund passengers or be transparent about their prices. Passengers have long been fed up with airlines’ last-minute, surprise fees.”

The rules, some which will take effect in six months and others that will take effect next year, will, most notably, require airlines to automatically refund travelers within seven days if the airline cancels a flight for any reason, “significantly” changes the departure or arrival time, or changes the airport of departure or arrival. In some cases, travelers may be offered other flights or vouchers. For the first time, the government is defining what’s “significant:” a change in departure or arrival time by three hours or more for a domestic flight or six hours or more for an international one.

“Passengers will finally be guaranteed prompt refunds for flights that the airline cancels or significantly delays or changes. This problem exploded in 2020 and continued for years as the COVID pandemic persisted,” Murray said. “As our research showed in our “The Plane Truth” reports over the years, complaints about refunds skyrocketed because too many airlines refused to give refunds or gave passengers the run-around. That ends now.”

“Passengers deserve to get their money back when an airline owes them — without headaches or haggling,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “Our new rule sets a new standard to require airlines to promptly provide cash refunds to their passengers.”

The DOT’s new rules also:

  • Place responsibility for the refund on the “merchant of record,” which is the airline 92% of the time, even when the ticket is sold by a third-party ticket agent.
  • Require refunds for baggage fees when bags are delayed by 12 hours or more for domestic flights.
  • Require up front disclosure for fees for first and second checked bags and carry-on bags, and any fee that might come from the traveler changing or canceling the flight.

The DOT is also proposing:

  • Prohibiting airlines from charging a passenger an extra fee to sit next to a young child traveling with them.
  • Expanding the rights for passengers who use wheelchairs.

“This is part of a wave of our national pushback against companies playing games with our money, whether it’s add-in airline fees or hotel junk fees or surprise medical bills. This is great for consumers, so we can make informed decisions about how we spend our hard-earned money.” Murray said. “Industry players have said it’s impossible to provide complete pricing, that it was too complicated. We’ve never believed that. If they want to sell airline tickets, they must now do it with transparency.”

Photo by U.S PIRG Education Fund | TPIN