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US Airlines Will Pay Automatic Flight Cancellation Refunds

US airlines are now required to offer automatic refunds for canceled or significantly altered flights, marking a substantial shift in consumer rights. The US Department of Transportation unveiled new regulations aimed at simplifying refund processes and ensuring consistency across the industry. The move comes in response to a surge in complaints during the Covid-19 pandemic, with refund-related issues comprising the majority of air-travel service complaints. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg emphasized the importance of hassle-free refunds for passengers owed money by airlines. The updated rules stipulate that passengers are entitled to refunds in cases of significant flight changes, such as departure or arrival time shifts exceeding three hours domestically or six hours internationally, downgrades in seating class, changes in airports or connecting flights, or disruptions to services like in-flight Wi-Fi or entertainment.

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Additionally, passengers will receive refunds for delayed or lost checked bags, with specific timeframes outlined for domestic and international flights. Airlines must promptly issue refunds in cash or through the original payment method, with the majority of the new requirements set to take effect in approximately six months. While the regulations aim to enhance consumer protection, analysts anticipate increased costs for airlines, potentially impacting low-cost carriers disproportionately.

The Airlines for America trade group emphasized their commitment to exceeding consumer protection standards, highlighting ongoing efforts to provide improved services and competitive pricing. In tandem with the refund changes, the Department of Transportation also issued a final rule mandating transparent communication of extra fees for services like checked luggage and reservation modifications. Secretary Buttigieg announced further forthcoming regulations, including expanded rights for passengers with disabilities and measures to prevent additional fees for parents wishing to sit with their children.

The Department pledges robust enforcement against rule violations, exemplified by a record $140 million fine imposed on Southwest Airlines for operational disruptions in December 2022. Buttigieg underscored the department's commitment to stringent enforcement, signaling a new standard of accountability in the airline industry.

April 25, 2024 12:11 p.m. 3696

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