(NEXSTAR) – The Department of Transportation has proposed a new package of rules that would make it easier for Americans to get their money back when things go wrong in air travel.

DOT says it has received “a flood” of complaints from travelers who have had their plans disrupted by COVID-19 and pandemic-related fallout, and lost money due to non-refundable ticket purchases.

The new rule would give people the right to a cash refund – not a voucher – “if airlines cancel or significantly change their flights.”

“Significant changes” is defined by the DOT as:

  • Anything that affects departure or arrival times by three hours (or more) on domestic flights and six hours (or more) on international flights
  • A change to which airport your flight departs from or arrives at
  • A change to the number of connections in your itinerary
  • If your aircraft type changes and “it causes a significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight”

Under the new rule, you’ll also be eligible for a voucher if you cancel your flight for pandemic-related reasons. Those reasons can include:

  • New government travel restrictions
  • Closed borders
  • Situations in which passengers are advised not to travel for their health or the health of others

These vouchers should not have an expiration date, the DOT says.

“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the DOT announcement. “This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines.”

The rule, proposed on August 3, is open for public comment for 90 days. After the public comment period ends, the proposal may be modified before the final rule is adopted and take effect.

Lawmakers also introduced a bill Monday that would codify the proposed DOT rule. The Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act goes even further than the DOT proposal by giving travelers the option to get a cash refund as long as they cancel their flight 48 hours before departure, the Hill reported.


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