Image Source: CNBC

On Wednesday, the Transportation Department proposed stricter rules on when airlines must compensate passengers for cancelled or delayed flights.

If a flight is canceled or “significantly” modified or delayed and the traveler refuses to travel, they can receive a refund. The agency, however, did not define what constitutes a significant change.

For example, if you’re a domestic flyer and your scheduled departure or arrival time is at least three hours off, or you’re an international flyer and your scheduled departure or arrival time is at least six hours off, the Transportation Department would call it a delayed flight. Also, travelers will receive a refund if the itinerary changes or if a connection is added, as well as if a change in aircraft means a “significant reduction” in amenities or other features.

In recent weeks, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has publicly criticized airlines for a spike in flight cancellations and delays, while airline executives and the Federal Aviation Administration have pointed fingers over the issue.

Democratic lawmakers have called for better protections for air travelers.

Of the 102,560 complaints about airline refunds in 2020, 87% of them and 60% of the 49,958 complaints in 2021 are complaints.

DOT also proposed requiring airlines to give passengers flight credits or vouchers without expiration dates if they cannot fly because of Covid-19, such as lockdowns, travel restrictions or personal reasons.

“When Americans buy an airline ticket, they should get to their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Buttigieg said in a news release.

Large airlines such as American, United, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, and others declined to comment.

Following the fall in demand for air travel and the outbreak of a pandemic, some airlines reduced the strict restrictions on ticket purchasing. Take American, United, and Delta for example. They had removed all change fees for economy-class tickets starting in 2020.

Southwest, which didn’t charge ticket change fees before the pandemic either, announced last week that the vouchers it issues will never expire.

The DOT has asked for public input on the proposed rules, and it is being taken seriously for 90 days.