The US Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that will regulate when airlines must provide cash refunds. As we’re about to explain, this may be even more beneficial on Hawaii flights.
The DOT published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. While it isn’t law yet, it sets out DOT’s plans to help airline passengers obtain ticket refunds. Airline practices are a hot topic here this week, especially in light of this: $700 Fare Change On “No-Change-Fee” $100 Hawaii Airfare.
Some proposed rules are new, while others merely codify current practices. This benefits airline passengers, as it moves the pendulum back towards airline consumer protection rather than merely shielding the industry.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably.” The airline trade association, Airlines For America, has thus far declined to comment.
1. Refunds when flights are canceled.
This rule, when approved, will formalize that when a flight is cancelled, airlines must provide the opportunity for you to obtain a refund to your original purchase method. During Covid, airlines were able to avoid refunds as long as possible. But now, that’s the law. UAL may have been the most egregious in trying to skirt passenger refunds. Until now, DOT has only admonished the airlines not to keep passengers’ money when flights are canceled.
2. Refunds when flights are rescheduled.
DOT also plans to implement a big change in the definition of a significant flight schedule change
It had not been codified as to what constitutes an adequate schedule change requiring airlines to offer a refund. That will change and makes it not up to the airline to decide.
The DOT plans to implement a 3-hour rule for domestic flights and a 6-hour rule for international flights.
3. Refunds when flights connect or are rerouted.
The Department of Transportation plans to rule that when airlines change either a departure or arrival city or add a connection in the routing, passengers are entitled to a refund. While that has generally been practiced, DOT’s desire to codify these specifics.
4. Refunds for changes of aircraft type.
DOT plan to rule that when you are scheduled on one type of plane and are changed to another with different features, you are again entitled to a refund. An example is booking a widebody flight between the mainland and Hawaii, perhaps featuring more premium features, a narrow-body replacement won’t cut it.
This recognizes that we consumers aren’t idiots and think through these issues before committing our money, especially for long flights such as to and from Hawaii. Thus, a refund must be offered if a change in aircraft constitutes any significantly decreased amenities or services.
Airlines may be entitled to a refund processing fee.
DOT has not specified this, and we don’t know how serious this could be. If you read yesterday’s article on airline change fees, you’ll see that sometimes strange fees are far more costly than we could have ever imagined.
Public comments are up next before the finalization of new rules.
Next DOT plant to seek public comment on the proposed changes over the next 90 days. Comments must be received within 90 days and can be filed on regulations.govdocket number DOT-OST-2022-0089.
Why do these issues impact Hawaii flights more than some others?
1. Longer duration of Hawaii flights. Because of this, you might have booked a nonstop from Denver to Kauai for example, only to find out later it was changed to a connecting flight on the west coast. That is not an equal product in the DOT’s mind.
2. The premium nature of Hawaii flights may include lie-flat seating in business and an enhanced premium economy. If there’s an aircraft change without the expected features, that’s a problem.
3. Cancellations and rescheduling are more critical on long-haul Hawaii flights than on shorter domestic flights. There may also be less frequent service or sold-out flights preventing easy changes.