As Thanksgiving Approaches, Cantwell, Markey, Blumenthal Call on DOT to Strengthen Ticket Refunds Rule

November 23, 2022

In filed comment, Senators urge DOT to require airlines to cover secondary costs incurred after delayed, cancelled flights – including hotel rooms and meals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With more than an estimated four million people travelling through U.S. airports this Thanksgiving season, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Committee-members Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) filed a comment on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposed rule on airline ticket refunds, urging the Department to strengthen and expeditiously finalize the proposed rule to ensure that consumers are fairly compensated when an airline cancels or significantly delays their flight – including secondary costs incurred from hotels, meals and transportation in the event of a cancellation or significant delay due to a problem within the airline’s control. This long overdue rule is urgently needed following months of travel disruptions, with airlines cancelling nearly 3% of flights during the first eight months of this year — a 63% increase over pre-pandemic figures — and delaying an additional 21% of flights.

“This rulemaking is a critical response to the increase in flight cancellations and delays during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a record number of consumer complaints about the refund process,” the senators wrote. “While we commend the agency for taking this step, DOT can strengthen the proposed rule by protecting consumers from other costs that are beyond their control — including ticket service fees on cancelled flights and secondary expenses resulting from a flight cancellation or delay.”

Specifically, the Senators urged DOT to strengthen its proposed rule by:

  1. Requiring airlines to cover secondary costs — such as hotel rooms, food and drink, and transportation to-and-from the airport — when an airline, due to a problem within its control, cancels or significantly delays a flight,
  2. Ensuring that passengers are not forced to cover ticket agents’ service fees when an airline cancels a flight; and,
  3. Requiring airlines to report to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics the value of the refunds and vouchers issued to consumers each month.

In May, Sens. Cantwell, Markey and Blumenthal wrote a letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the Department to use its regulatory power to “make the process for obtaining refunds more transparent and efficient.” In their letter, they urged the DOT to take specific actions to protect consumers, including clarifying and codifying policies requiring carriers and ticket agents to provide prompt refunds after a flight is cancelled or significantly delayed, as well as clarifying the rights for consumers who are unable to travel due to government restrictions or the declaration of a public health emergency.

The comment letter can be found here.