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As our economy and our families continue to recover from the shockwaves of a grueling pandemic, more and more Americans have returned to traveling this year. That’s good news: travel is good for our economy as well as our spirits.
But that return hasn’t been without challenges. Airlines struggled to keep up with demand over the summer, and cancellations and delays surged. And while their on-time performance has improved considerably in the past six months, there is still a long way to go.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up soon, we at the Department of Transportation have been focused on supporting travelers—whether they’re behind the wheel, boarding a train, or headed to the airport. And if you’re one of the nearly half of American travelers planning to fly this holiday season, there are a few things you should know.
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You have rights, and we’re enforcing them
First and most importantly, if your flight gets cancelled for any reason, you are entitled to a full cash refund. Airlines may offer you credits or miles instead, but if you ask, they’re required by law to refund not only your ticket, but also baggage fees and related charges.
If your airline refuses or fails to refund you, let us know through our website. To date, we’ve helped passengers recover hundreds of millions of dollars in required refunds, and we will do everything we can to get you the money you’re owed.
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We’re promoting transparency, so you can make informed decisions
When it comes to customer service, the different policies of different airlines are not always obvious, which can make it harder to comparison shop when you’re buying an airline ticket. That’s why we recently created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard, which lets you easily compare the services different airlines offer when they cause a cancellation or delay.
Before that webpage went live, I told the airlines that it was coming and encouraged them to step up their game—and many of them did. Before we published the dashboard, none of the ten largest U.S. airlines guaranteed meals and hotels, and only one guaranteed free rebooking. Today, nine out of ten offer hotels and meals, and all of them promise free rebooking when they cause a delay or cancellation. Airlines are required to deliver on these promises, and we plan to make sure they do—so if you run into a problem with an airline keeping its word, let us know.
We’re raising the bar for airlines
All these changes have helped make flying easier. But we’re not just enforcing the existing rules, we’re also working on new ones that would strengthen protections for travelers.
We’ve proposed a rule that would strengthen protections for customers who cancel flights because of a serious communicable disease like COVID-19, and would require airlines to proactively inform passengers of their right to a refund—because you shouldn’t need to know the magic words to get what you’re owed.
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We’ve introduced another proposal that would require that hidden fees—for bags, for travelers to sit with family members, and more—be disclosed up front, so you can find the best deal when you’re booking tickets. We’ve also proposed a rule that would require refunds when customers pay for something they don’t get—such as when the in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t work.
When you’re heading home for Thanksgiving, packing Christmas gifts to bring to family members, or gearing up for a New Year break, concerns about what to expect if your flight gets cancelled or delayed should be the last thing on your mind.
Transportation is what lets us spend the holidays with the people we love most—and holiday travel should be something to look forward to. That’s why, when you fly this holiday season, we’ll have your back.
Pete Buttigieg serves as the 19th Secretary of Transportation.