New DOT Airfare Refund Regulations, What You Need to Know

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 9, 2024 19:36 PMNews
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The plane on the runway
The plane on the runway. Source: pixabay

Recently, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized new regulations regarding airfare refunds, eliciting a mixed reaction from stakeholders. While consumer groups welcomed the move, airlines expressed discontent with certain provisions, particularly those that place the responsibility for refunds on travel agencies, even when the funds are held by airlines.

The new rules, set to take effect at the end of October, aim to strengthen passenger rights by obligating airlines to inform passengers of their right to a refund before offering alternatives such as flight credits or rescheduling bookings. Refunds must now be processed within seven days for tickets purchased with credit cards, marking a significant departure from previous practices where airlines automatically issued credits, often leaving passengers unaware of their entitlements.

However, the trade group Airlines for America (A4A) argues that such rules could lead to confusion and decreased competition, ultimately affecting prices. One notable aspect of the rules is the definition of a "significant delay," now clarified as three hours for domestic flights and six hours for international ones. This clarification aims to eliminate ambiguity in the contracts of nearly all major US airlines.

However, delays in implementing such rules by the DOT have raised doubts about timely resolutions. As the travel industry adapts to these changes, their impact on consumers and market players remains uncertain, underscoring the need for a balanced approach that protects passenger rights while ensuring a competitive market environment.

Mario Matulich, president of the company Customer Management Practice, foresees long-term benefits for both consumers and airlines, underscoring the importance of transparent and consumer-friendly policies. Despite potential advantages, the new rules pose challenges for travel advisors, particularly the provision holding them financially accountable for refunds in certain cases.

Peter Lobasso, general counsel for ASTA, expresses concerns about potential risks for agencies, especially in group bookings, where cancellations could lead to significant financial burdens. Congress is expected to vote on an FAA reauthorization package, which could address the issue by requiring the DOT to promptly transfer funds from airlines to travel agents in such cases.

The period of transition necessitates careful attention to detail, open dialogue among all parties, and ongoing monitoring of the effects of new rules to ensure balanced and effective regulation in air transportation.

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