DOT proposal: Travelers would receive refund if flight is canceled, postponed

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Robert Almeida was looking forward to his sister’s wedding in Portugal in 2020, but then the pandemic forced airlines to shut down for some time.

Like many, he was forced to rebook his flight.

“They gave me a voucher to buy more tickets for the following August,” Almeida said.

Almeida purchased new tickets with the voucher, but the wedding was once again put on hold.

He tells Nexstar’s WPRI that he’s been trying to get his money back ever since, but he keeps getting the runaround from the travel agency and the airline.

The lack of refund forced him to make a tough financial decision.

“I missed my sister’s wedding this weekend,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Department has introduced a proposal to protect travelers like Almeida.

The transportation department proposal would require airlines to offer passengers a refund if their flight schedule is changed significantly or the airline makes major changes to their itinerary.

It would require airlines to give refunds if their departure or arrival time changes by three hours or more for a domestic flight or at least six hours for an international one.

Refunds would also be due if the airline changes the passenger’s departure or arrival airport, adds stops in their itinerary, or causes “a significant downgrade” in the travel experience by switching to a different type of plane.

The rule would apply even for travelers who buy nonrefundable tickets, which usually cost less and are favored by many leisure travelers.

The department proposes to require that airlines and ticket agents give vouchers that don’t expire for passengers who are told not to travel during a pandemic for health reasons or because borders are closed.

The Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee is hosting a virtual public meeting for the proposal that is open to public comment on Aug. 22. Public comments will be accepted on the proposal for 90 days.

Currently, airlines are required to offer refunds to passengers whose flights are canceled or significantly changed, but it has never defined a cancellation or significant change. Because of that, airlines have challenged the Transportation Department’s authority to force them to pay refunds.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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