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Major Changes Might Be Coming to Protect Fliers From Airport Chaos

The Department of Transportation proposal would protect travelers from canceled and delayed flights.

How will you remember the summer travel season of 2022? Will it be the memories of jealously looking through your friend’s Instagram feeds as they galivanted through Italy eating pasta and baking under the Amalfi Coast sun? Or will it be the schadenfreude of watching thousands of passengers get stranded at airports as their flights were massively delayed, canceled, and their luggage lost?

Let’s be honest, it’s probably the schadenfreude.

But if you were one of the tens of thousands of people who experienced the hell of travel in 2022, you also know that there was little to no recourse for your problems. Now, if you were flying in or out of Europe, the European Union has rules to compensate you for your loss of time and stuff.

But if you were flying in and around America, you were screwed.

Well, that might be about to change.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) last week dropped one of the most important proposals for airline passenger rights in a generation. Headed by former Indiana mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the DOT is aiming to give travelers flying into or out of the U.S. the same types of rights that European travelers have experienced for years.

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Here are the highlights:

Refunds

U.S. and foreign airlines, in addition to ticket agents, will have to provide prompt ticket refunds for canceled flights or for significant changes to your flight itinerary if you don’t accept the alternative form of transportation that the airline or agent might offer.

Now there’s some fine print here. The definition of a canceled flight is a “flight that was listed in the carrier’s [computer reservation system] at the time the ticket was sold to a consumer but was not operated by the carrier. Under this proposed definition, the reason that the flight was not operated (e.g., mechanical, weather, air traffic control) would not matter.”

And the significant change to an itinerary means departing/arriving three or more hours earlier or later for a domestic flight and six hours earlier or later for an international flight.

The proposal is also compelling the airlines and agents to inform you that you’re entitled to a refund–so no more shenanigans!

There are also provisions in the proposal for lost or delayed baggage that can include refunding all baggage fees.

And finally, it won’t matter if the airline ticket was non-refundable. You would still be eligible for a refund.

Vouchers

Another proposal by the DOT has to do with illness. In a nutshell, the DOT will require airlines to provide non-expiring travel credits or vouchers for passengers who aren’t able to fly due to a communicable disease (irrespective of a public health emergency). If you have COVID, you get a voucher. If you have the flu and a doctor’s note, you get a voucher. Monkeypox, voucher.

Bottom line, you will no longer have to choose between your health and the health of others for the cost of an airline ticket. Seems like a good way to keep people safe in a pandemic.

Public Health Emergencies

This one might be obvious, but the proposal will require airlines to give refunds during a public health emergency, ESPECIALLY if the airline is receiving governmental financial assistance.

There’s a lot more, which you can read here, but it’s the most significant proposal for passenger rights in the United States in a very long time and will make the future hell of travel feel a little more palatable. Thanks, Mayor Pete!

The proposal is open for public comments for 90 days as of August 2, 2022. That means in November, you might actually have some passenger rights to fall back on during your next major travel delay.

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