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Airlines Now Required to Give Automatic Cash Refunds for Canceled, Delayed Flights
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 24, 2024

The Biden administration has issued new rules requiring airlines to automatically issue cash refunds for significant delays and cancellations, and to disclose fees more transparently. (AP File)

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The Biden administration issued final rules Wednesday to require airlines to automatically issue cash refunds for things like delayed flights and to better disclose fees for baggage or canceling a reservation.

The Transportation Department said airlines will be required to provide automatic cash refunds within a few days for canceled flights and “significant” delays.

Defining a Significant Delay

Under current regulations, airlines decide how long a delay must last before triggering refunds. The administration is removing that wiggle room by defining a significant delay as lasting at least three hours for domestic flights and six hours for international ones.

Airlines still will be allowed to offer another flight or a travel credit instead, but consumers can reject the offer.

Refunds for Additional Services

The rule will also apply to refunds of checked-bag fees if the bag isn’t delivered within 12 hours for domestic flights or 15 to 30 hours for international flights. And it will apply to fees for things such as seat selection or an internet connection if the airline fails to provide the service.

Complaints about refunds skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, as airlines canceled flights and, even when they didn’t, many people didn’t feel safe sharing a plane cabin with other passengers.

Airlines for America, a trade group for large U.S. carriers, noted that refund complaints to the Transportation Department have fallen sharply since mid-2020. A spokesperson for the group said airlines “offer a range of options — including fully refundable fares — to increase accessibility to air travel and to help customers make ticket selections that best fit their needs.”

The group said the 11 largest U.S. airlines issued $43 billion in customer refunds from 2020 through 2023.

Transparency in Fees

The Transportation Department issued a separate rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to disclose upfront what they charge for checked and carry-on bags and canceling or changing a reservation. On airline websites, the fees must be shown the first time customers see a price and schedule.

The rule will also oblige airlines to tell passengers they have a guaranteed seat they are not required to pay extra for, although it does not bar airlines from charging people to choose specific seats. Many airlines now charge extra for certain spots, including exit-row seats and those near the front of the cabin.

The agency said the rule will save consumers more than $500 million a year.

Airlines for America said its members “offer transparency and vast choice to consumers” from their first search.

The new rules will take effect over the next two years. They are part of a broad administration attack on what President Joe Biden calls “junk fees.” Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that his department will let state officials in 15 states help enforce federal airline consumer protection laws.

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