New rules mean more passengers with delayed flights are entitled to cash refunds

Most regular air travelers have probably experienced annoying or costly flight delays, only to be offered an airline voucher – or sometimes nothing at all. Not any longer, according to new Department of Transport rulings.

Until now, each individual airline was responsible for deciding when your delay was long enough to warrant compensation, and what that compensation should be. But now, as a result of new regulations, airlines will no longer be able to dictate what you should receive or in what format. These new refund changes will mean a whopping savings to consumers, anticipated to be up to $543 million annually.

The new rules brought in last Wednesday mean that airlines can no longer offer vouchers to delayed or stranded travelers, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. These regulation changes will require airlines to promptly provide cash payments to affected passengers “without headaches or haggling,” according to Secretary Buttigieg.

These new rules will not only mean quicker refunds, but they will also force airlines to reimburse passengers who, in the past, have traditionally been considered “out of luck”. Previously, if delays forced a traveler to purchase another ticket with a competing airline – in order to arrive on time for a work commitment, for example – it was not common to be offered any re-reimbursement, because the original flight was only delayed and not canceled. These compensation policies also varied between airlines, along with the form of refund offered.

The new standardized requirements are now much more specific, and passengers are now able to receive refunds if a domestic flight is delayed more than three hours, or six hours for international flights. Carriers will also be forced to disclose details about baggage fees or company rules regarding flight changes. Also included in these new refund requirements is a full refund of any baggage fees paid for any luggage that arrives more than twelve hours late.

Stipulations on how quickly the funds must be paid out to passengers have also been introduced. For any refunds to be applied to credit cards, the refund must be made within seven days, and within twenty calendar days for all other forms of payment (such as airline miles programs). Refunds must be offered in the same format as the original purchase.

Air transportation passengers will also be very happy about another change brought about by these new rules: Airlines are now being forced to reimburse passengers for any services that they purchased but that were not delivered – such as onboard wifi or upgraded seating. A simple apology for not being able to provide a service will no longer suffice.

These changes have come about as a result of the Biden administration’s commitment to revamp the airline industry’s poor handling of travel delays and interruptions during the COVID pandemic. At its peak, the Department of Transport received nearly 47,600 complaints from consumers – doubling any previous records for refund complaints.

Many of these policy changes are slated to begin later this year, according to Buttigieg. The bulk of these protections will be going into effect in about six months, and the remainder are due to start in one year. Airlines do not have to wait to introduce these changes, however. “They could and should be doing this right now,” says Secretary Buttigieg.

“Too often, airlines drag their feet on refunds or rip folks off with junk fees,” President Biden said on Wednesday, saying that these new regulations will make sure that airlines pay “automatic refunds to passengers when they’re owed, and protect them from surprise fees.”

These changes come on the heels of the massive $140 million fine levied to Southwest Airlines, as a result of the company’s meltdown during the 2022 holiday travel season.

Airlines for America, which represents the majority of airlines in the US, has responded by saying that airlines “offer transparency and vast choice to consumers from first search to touchdown.” The full list of changes can be viewed at the Department of Transport website.

Richard Weninger

Author: Richard Weninger


Richard Weninger is a Freelance writer with an extensive background in broadcast journalism and travel writing. He is a published author of both guidebooks and fiction novels. Richard is also an outspoken advocate for environmental causes and animal rights, with a passion for hiking and exploring

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