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Will new DOT rule impact UA's two hour schedule change rule?

Old Apr 24, 2024, 5:04 pm
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Last edit by: WineCountryUA
DOT Press Releases 24 April 2024
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Final Rule Requiring Automatic Refunds of Airline Tickets and Ancillary Service Fees
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Final Rule to Protect Consumers from Surprise Airline Junk Fees
Final Rule Refunds and Other Consumer Protections (2105-AF04)_0.pdf
FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Rules to Deliver Automatic Refunds and Protect Consumers from Surprise Junk Fees in Air Travel

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Rules to Deliver Automatic Refunds and Protect Consumers from Surprise Junk Fees in Air Travel
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Newly finalized rules will mandate automatic, cash refunds for cancelled or significantly delayed flights and save consumers over half a billion dollars every year in airline fees

WASHINGTON Building on a historic record of expanding consumer protections and standing up for airline passengers, the Biden-Harris Administration announced final rules that require airlines to provide automatic cash refunds to passengers when owed and protect consumers from costly surprise airline fees. These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed, and save consumers over half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees.

Passengers deserve to know upfront what costs they are facing and should get their money back when an airline owes them - without having to ask, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Todays announcements will require airlines to both provide passengers better information about costs before ticket purchase, and promptly provide cash refunds to passengers when they are owed not only saving passengers time and money, but also preventing headaches.

The rules are part of the Biden-Harris Administrations work to lower costs for consumers and take on corporate rip-offs. President Biden signed an Executive Order on Promoting Competition in 2021 that encouraged DOT to take steps to promote fairer, more transparent, and competitive markets.

Requiring Automatic Cash Airline Refunds
The first rule requires airlines to promptly provide passengers with automatic cash refunds when owed because their flights are cancelled or significantly changed, their checked bags are significantly delayed, or the ancillary services, like Wi-Fi, they purchased are not provided.

Without this rule, consumers have to navigate a patchwork of cumbersome processes to request and receive a refund searching through airline websites to figure out how to make the request, filling out extra digital paperwork, or at times waiting for hours on the phone. Passengers would also receive a travel credit or voucher by default from many airlines instead of getting their money back, so they could not use their refund to rebook on another airline when their flight was changed or cancelled without navigating a cumbersome request process.

DOTs rule makes it simple and straightforward for passengers to receive the money they are owed. The final rule requires refunds to be:
  • Automatic: Airlines must automatically issue refunds without passengers having to explicitly request them or jump through hoops.
  • Prompt: Airlines and ticket agents must promptly issue refunds within seven business days of refunds becoming due for credit card purchases and 20 calendar days for other payment methods.
  • Cash or original form of payment: Airlines and ticket agents must provide refunds in cash or whatever original payment method the individual used to make the purchase, such as credit card or airline miles. Airlines may not substitute vouchers, travel credits, or other forms of compensation unless the passenger affirmatively chooses to accept alternative compensation.
  • Full amount: Airlines and ticket agents must provide full refunds of the ticket purchase price, minus the value of any portion of transportation already used. The refunds must include all government-imposed taxes and fees and airline-imposed fees.



Protecting Against Surprise Airline Junk Fees
Secondly, DOT is requiring airlines and ticket agents to tell consumers upfront what fees they charge for checked bags, a carry-on bag, for changing a reservation, or cancelling a reservation. This ensures that consumers can avoid surprise fees when they purchase tickets from airlines or ticket agents, including both brick-and-mortar travel agencies or online travel agencies.


The rule will help consumers avoid unneeded or unexpected charges that can increase quickly and add significant cost to what may, at first, look like a cheap ticket. Extra fees, like checked baggage and change fees, have been a growing source of revenue for airlines, while also becoming more complex and confusing for passengers over time. In total, thanks to the final rule, consumers are expected to save over half a billion dollars every year that they are currently overpaying in airline fees.

DOTs rule ensures that consumers have the information they need to better understand the true costs of air travel. Under the final rule, airlines are required to:
  • Disclose baggage, change, and cancellation fees upfront: Each fee must be disclosed the first time that fare and schedule information is provided on the airlines online platform -- and cannot be displayed through a hyperlink.
  • Explain fee policies before ticket purchase: For each type of baggage, airlines and ticket agents must spell out the weight and dimension limitations that they impose. They must also describe any prohibitions or restrictions on changing or cancelling a flight, along with policies related to differences in fare when switching to a more or less expensive flight.
  • Share fee information with third parties: An airline must provide useable, current, and accurate information regarding its baggage, change, and cancellation fees and policies to any company that is required to disclose them to consumers and receives fare, schedule, and availability information from that airline.
  • Inform consumers that seats are guaranteed: When offering an advance seat assignment for a fee, airlines and ticket agents must let consumers know that purchasing a seat is not necessary to travel, so consumers can avoid paying unwanted seat selection fees.
  • Provide both standard and passenger-specific fee information: Consumers can choose to view passenger-specific fee information based on their participation in the airlines rewards program, their military status, or the credit card that they use or they can decide to stay anonymous and get the standard fee information.
  • End discount bait-and-switch tactics: The final rule puts an end to the bait-and-switch tactics some airlines use to disguise the true cost of discounted flights. It prohibits airlines from advertising a promotional discount off a low base fare that does not include all mandatory carrier-imposed fees.
DOTs Historic Record of Consumer Protection Under the Biden-Harris Administration
Both of these actions were suggested for consideration by the DOT in the Executive Order on Promoting Competition and build on historic steps the Biden-Harris Administration has already taken to expand consumer protections, promote competition, and protect air travelers. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, DOT has advanced the largest expansion of airline passenger rights, issued the biggest fines against airlines for failing consumers, and returned more money to passengers in refunds and reimbursements than ever before in the Departments history.
  • DOT launched the flightrights.gov dashboard, and now all 10 major U.S. airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. These are new commitments the airlines added to their customer service plans that DOT can legally ensure they adhere to and are displayed on flightrights.gov.
  • Since President Biden took office, DOT has helped return more than $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements owed to airline passengers including over $600 million to passengers affected by the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in 2022.
  • DOT has issued over $164 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations. Between 1996 and 2020, DOT collectively issued less than $71 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations.
  • DOT recently launched a new partnership with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to fast-track the review of consumer complaints, hold airlines accountable, and protect the rights of the traveling public.
  • In 2023, the flight cancellation rate in the U.S. was a record low at under 1.2% the lowest rate of flight cancellations in over 10 years despite a record amount of air travel.
  • DOT is undertaking its first ever industry-wide review of airline privacy practices and its first review of airline loyalty programs
In addition to finalizing the rules to require automatic refunds and protect consumers from surprise fees, DOT is also pursuing rulemakings that would:
  • Propose to ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Before President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines last year, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now, four airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, as the Department is working on its family seating junk fee ban proposal.
  • Propose to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations.
  • Expand the rights for passengers who use wheelchairs and ensure that they can travel safely and with dignity. The comment period on this proposed rule closes on May 13, 2024.
Travelers can learn more about their protections when they fly at FlightRights.gov. Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here.

New DOT rule vs EU261
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Will new DOT rule impact UA's two hour schedule change rule?

Old Apr 24, 2024, 9:18 am
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Will new DOT rule impact UA's two hour schedule change rule?

Presently UA will refund or allow a generous reschedule if there is a two or more hour change in schedule. This applied to both advance schedule changes and day of travel issues.
Many have used this schedule change policy to get better, perhaps, more direct routing or better time of day. Some have called this a "golden ticket."

The US DOT has released new rules Airlines will now be required to give automatic cash refunds for canceled and delayed flights that seems to more aimed at day of travel changes
also Airlines Must Provide Automatic Cash Refunds, More Transparency
The Transportation Department said airlines will be required to provide automatic cash refunds within a few days for canceled flights and “significant” delays. Under current regulations, airlines decide how long a delay must last before triggering refunds. The administration is removing that wiggle room by defining a significant delay as lasting at least three hours for domestic flights and six hours for international ones.
DOT Press Releases
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Final Rule Requiring Automatic Refunds of Airline Tickets and Ancillary Service Fees
Biden-Harris Administration Announces Final Rule to Protect Consumers from Surprise Airline Junk Fees
FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Rules to Deliver Automatic Refunds and Protect Consumers from Surprise Junk Fees in Air Travel

Additionally the DOT included
The rule will also apply to refunds of checked-bag fees if the bag isn’t delivered within 12 hours for domestic flights or 15 to 30 hours for international flights.
There are other changes -- disclosure of fees which may make for a more cluttered display.

However, hopeful the refund requirement does not impact UA's advance schedule change policy

Reminder -- let's stay focus on the impact on UA policies (therefore the impact on us) and not wander into OMNI/PR land

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Apr 24, 2024 at 4:13 pm Reason: repaired link
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 9:21 am
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Originally Posted by WineCountryUA
However, hope the refund requirement does not impact UA's advance schedule change policy
I think we all know that it will.

It's hard to avoid going OMNI on this -- but this is what happens when you overregulate.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 9:39 am
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Originally Posted by jsloan
... It's hard to avoid going OMNI on this -- .
Not if we focus on how UA may change their policies.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 10:10 am
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Two things stand out to me so far in the new ruling:

"Canceled or significantly changed flights: 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. For the first time, the rule defines “significant change.” Significant changes to a flight include departure or arrival times that are more than 3 hours domestically and 6 hours internationally; departures or arrivals from a different airport; increases in the number of connections; instances where passengers are downgraded to a lower class of service; or connections at different airports or flights on different planes that are less accessible or accommodating to a person with a disability."

This refers to *changes* to flights/itineraries (e.g. an EU261-like rule). Does a delay constitute a "significant change"? I don't think so based on this wording. I think it's directed towards a schedule change that's made in advance and not day-of. Of course this rule can also apply to itineraries changed at the airport due to IROPS. But, a rolling delay (mechanical, weather, etc.) doesn't IMO. I'm sure the intent of this rule will be misconstrued. So, IMO, United should not be changing its 2 hour policy.


"Full amount: Airlines and ticket agents must provide full refunds of the ticket purchase price, minus the value of any portion of transportation already used. The refunds must include all government-imposed taxes and fees and airline-imposed fees, regardless of whether the taxes or fees are refundable to airlines."

This remains ambiguous and allows airlines like United to reprice your ticket as if you flew a one-way and offer a significantly reduced, or some cases zero, refund for the return portion (except for taxes). The DOT could have done work here to clarify this because I expect zero change on United's part in screwing over customers.

-RM
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 10:52 am
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I see a potential overlooked consequence of policies becoming worse in some cases like this.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 11:00 am
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If I'm understanding correctly, UA's policy is already more generous than this? If so, it's not at all clear to me why UA would change its policy, and rather it seems most likely that UA will trumpet that it is already more flexible/generous than required?
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 11:16 am
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Originally Posted by RobOnLI
.... I think it's directed towards a schedule change that's made in advance and not day-of. Of course this rule can also apply to itineraries changed at the airport due to IROPS. But, a rolling delay (mechanical, weather, etc.) doesn't IMO....
I read it differently - any delay, for whatever reason (incl. one caused by rolling delay), becomes refundable. That being said, I think most people traveling need to get somewhere, so they'll eat a delay/re-accomodation to get where they need to go. Getting a refund (usually) doesn't help in that endeavor at the last moment.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 11:32 am
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As United currently offers refunds on non refundable flights when there is a schedule change I do not see an issue with this directive.

The refund of the luggage fees is a good move for UA pax without status.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 11:58 am
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DOT has never specifically ruled that advance schedule changes (such as a flight number change) constitutes a "cancellation" and the airlines generally do not consider them such. Both DL and UA currently offer refunds on advance schedule changes over 2 hours in their CoC. Adding a connection or change of carrier is also grounds for a refund.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 11:59 am
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Originally Posted by physioprof
If I'm understanding correctly, UA's policy is already more generous than this? If so, it's not at all clear to me why UA would change its policy, and rather it seems most likely that UA will trumpet that it is already more flexible/generous than required?
Originally Posted by Aussienarelle
As United currently offers refunds on non refundable flights when there is a schedule change I do not see an issue with this directive.
.
Why be more generous than the new industry / DOT standard?
I hope so but wonder if UA might change.

Remember during COVID UA tried to go to 12 or more hours until DOT forced them back to their prior policy.

Note for the 24 hour free cancellation of non-refundable, UA 's practice is more generous than DOT rule in respect of still allow refund for last minutes ( with 7 days) booking. But UA's written policy includes the 7-day cutoff.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 12:40 pm
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Originally Posted by WineCountryUA
Why be more generous than the new industry / DOT standard?
I hope so but wonder if UA might change.
I fully expect them to change to match the DOT rule, and anything less than the rule will be a "one time exception" that some agents may give to some Premier members.
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 1:54 pm
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Originally Posted by WineCountryUA
Why be more generous than the new industry / DOT standard?
Competitive advantage?
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 2:13 pm
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Originally Posted by mahasamatman
Competitive advantage?
Possibly or to match others. But to be an advantage, it needs to be widely known like the no change fee (which domestically has been neutralized).
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 2:34 pm
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Is there "travel credits" for delays though? Is it really like EU261 or not really
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Old Apr 24, 2024, 3:02 pm
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Most people would rather take the re-accommodation except when the "next available flight" is 4 days in the future - which happened to me not that long ago. I had no choice but to cancel and rebook on another airline, last minute.
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