Department of Transportation Says Airlines Must Issue Refunds for Delayed or Cancelled Flights

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced that airlines need to issue automatic refunds to passengers impacted by cancelled flights.

United Airlines aircraft tails with company logo at airport; another plane taxiing in background
Gary Hershorn via Getty Images
United Airlines aircraft tails with company logo at airport; another plane taxiing in background

The Department of Transportation has announced new rules requiring airlines to issue refunds to all customers impacted by cancelled or substantially delayed flights.

As detailed by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the new rules mean that it will be much easier for everyone impacted by travel frustration to receive refunds. "The Biden-Harris administration is now going to require airlines to give passengers an automatic cash refund if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed," he said in a video announcement, as seen below. "And you'll get your fee refunded if your bag doesn't arrive in time, or if you don't get a service you paid for like Wi-Fi."

The idea behind the new rules is to eliminate "refund runarounds" and the default offer of time-limited travel credit instead of cash refunds. "We're also eliminating hidden fees," he added. "Passengers should know how much it'll add to your total ticket price to check or carry on a bag, or to change or cancel your flight."

Our department just issued rules to protect people from hidden airline fees and to require airlines to give passengers automatic cash refunds when owed. No more having to fend for yourself and jump through hoops to get your money back—airlines will have to automatically do this.

— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) April 24, 2024
Twitter: @SecretaryPete

What constitutes a "significant" delay? According to the Department of Transportation, that would be three hours or more for any domestic flights or six hours or more for international flights. The rules constitute that automatic refunds, instead of a long-winded back-and-forth with customer service representatives, will be the standard going forward.

So, if you need a refund, you actually don't need to do anything at all. The rule applies not only to flights purchased directly through an airline but also through travel agents and travel companies such as Expedia. Passengers will be "entitled to a refund if their flight is canceled or significantly changed, and they do not accept alternative transportation or travel credits offered," the rules state.

The refunds must be processed within seven days of the canceled or delayed flight. The rules go into effect within the next six months.

Latest in Life