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DOT to U.S. Airlines: Make Flight Refunds Easier

New rules take some uncertainty out of the air-travel experience for on-the-road meeting professionals and their attendees. Here’s what’s new.

Delayed and canceled flights, lost bags, wonky WiFi: You can’t police these travel hassles out of existence, but standards can be set for how airlines will deal with them when they happen.

Right now, U.S. airlines set their own standards for what kind of flight problems warrant a refund, when and how refunds are issued, when baggage is considered lost, and other gray areas. However, a new rule from the Department of Transportation issued on April 24 intends to bring a consistent approach to the process.

Here’s what the DOT new rules say:

How late is late? Passengers will be entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or “significantly changed,” and they don’t take alternative transportation or travel credits. The DOT rule defines “significant change” as a flight departure or arrival time that is delayed by more than three hours domestically or six hours internationally.

Consistent refunds: Travelers will also be entitled to refunds when
• their flight arrives at a different airport than expected;
• the number of connections increase after a ticket is purchased;
• a passenger is downgraded to a lower class of service;

• the type of plane is different than expected and is therefore less accessible to a person with a disability.

Cash, please: Airlines may not substitute vouchers or travel credits for cash refunds unless the passenger specifically requests it.

Checked bag fees: Passengers who file a lost baggage report will be entitled to a refund of their checked bag fee if the bag is not delivered within 12 hours of a domestic flight arriving at the gate. For international flights, that window is 15 to 30 hours, depending on the length of the flight.

Extra services fees: Passengers often pay extra for Wi-Fi, seat selection, in-flight entertainment, and other services. If an airline fails to provide a purchased service, it will have refund the fee.

Automatic and timely: The DOT expects airlines to issue refunds within seven business days for credit-card purchases (20 days for other payment methods) and to do so automatically, without the passenger having to fill out a lot of paperwork.

Changing the patchwork of airline policies to a consistent framework will not only make it easier for meeting professionals to answer attendees’ travel questions, but it will also eliminate stress and add clarity when they must assert their own refund rights.  The compliance deadline for most of the new rules is this fall.


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