The airline industry has had a very bumpy road back to whatever passes for normalcy in the covid era. This past weekend was a particularly bad headache for air travelers, as 950 flights were canceled on Sunday, and 8,000 were delayed. It was a tough weekend overall, as 657 flights were canceled on Saturday, and 7,267 flights were also delayed that day.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, of the more than 2.73 million flights so far in 2022, roughly 20% have been delayed while 3% were canceled.
The reasons for this are myriad. Climate change is leading to increasingly unpredictable weather. While many people are beginning to act like covid is over, that’s just not the case, and many flights are still getting canceled because crew members have become infected and need to quarantine.
Additionally, the airlines are all understaffed, as the industry lost more than 400,000 workers during the pandemic. Many pilots retired, and the industry has struggled to attract enough people to replace them in a tight labor market. Additionally, the workers who stayed report that they feel burnt-out and overworked, and in some instances fear for their safety.
This leads to more workers quitting or calling in sick, and therefore flights get canceled because there’s not enough people to work them.
Cancelations are a headache no matter which way you slice it. But a proposal from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg might make it easier for customers to get a refund in a timely manner.
Want A Refund For A Canceled Flight? Good Luck!
Getting a refund for a canceled flight is like pulling teeth.
Technically, it is federal law that consumers are entitled to a refund if an airline cancels a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel, as the Department of Transportation has stated customers can get a refund if the airline “made a significant schedule change and/or significantly delays a flight and the consumer chooses not to travel,” according to the Department of Transportation.
But the problem, as noted by ABC News, is that the “DOT has not defined what constitutes a “significant delay.” According to the agency, whether you are entitled to a refund depends on multiple factors, including the length of the delay, the length of the flight and “your particular circumstances.”
It’s rare for an airline to just say “tough luck” and not give the customer anything after a cancellation. (Imagine the social media firestorm!) But while there’s no industry-wide standard, most airlines just issue vouchers or credits for a future flight instead of a cash refund, which ties the customer to that airline in the future.
What’s even more frustrating is that very often these vouchers will expire within a year, which doesn’t always work for many people’s travel plans. Though to be fair, Southwest (LUV) did recently announce they would be changing this policy, removing all expiration dates from flight credits.
Mayor Pete Wants To Make Refunds Easier
Buttigieg has announced a proposal that would expand customer rights in terms of protections cancelations and refunds for both domestic and international flights. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” states Buttigieg.
Under the proposal, passengers who do not accept alternate transportation (i.e. getting bumped to a later flight) will be eligible for a refund for any of the below circumstances.
- If your flight is canceled
- Whenever departure or arrival times are delayed by at least three hours for domestic flights or by at least six hours for international flights, if flyers opt-out of taking the flight
- Anytime the departure or arrival airport changes or the number of connections is increased on an itinerary
- If the original aircraft has to be replaced by another but there’s a major difference in the onboard amenities offered and overall travel experience as a result
The proposal would require airlines to issue vouchers, with no expiration date, when passengers are “unable to fly for certain pandemic-related reasons, such as government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health or the health of other passengers.”
But if an airline or ticket agency received pandemic-related government assistance, they would be required to issue cash refunds instead of vouchers.
In an interview with The Points Guy, Buttigieg said “Every step moves us further towards passengers being more protected,” he said. “This is based on authorities that have built up over time, but it’s clear that the passenger experience isn’t good enough, and we need to do more to clarify airlines’ responsibilities and to make clear what we’re going to do to enforce them.”
While this is just a proposal at the moment, Buttigieg said “I think we can move this one pretty quickly, barring any surprises.” He added that “We are going to be responsive to feedback and the suggestions that come in.”
If you have thoughts on this matter, the public is invited to attend a virtual meeting hosted by the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee that’s scheduled for Aug. 22, 2022. Any comments you wish to make about this proposal can be submitted here under docket number DOT-OST-2022-0089.