Washington, D.C./ Politics & Govt
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Published on April 24, 2024
Biden-Harris Administration Mandates Automatic Cash Refunds for Flight Disruptions, Targets Airline "Corporate Rip-offs"Source: Google Street View

In a move to bolster consumer rights, the Biden-Harris Administration has laid down new regulations that demand airlines to automatically provide cash refunds for passengers facing canceled or significantly altered flights, lengthy baggage delays, or absent in-flight services like Wi-Fi. The plan, which was announced on Monday, outlines that when airlines owe consumers a refund, they will no longer be able to give travel credits or vouchers unless the customer specifically opts for these alternatives. Instead, refunds will have to be issued automatically and promptly, in cash or the original method of payment used.

The changes, announced on the White House website, come as the administration continues its push to lower costs for consumers and address what it terms as corporate rip-offs. Highlighted within the announcement—flush with the intent to save travelers over half a billion dollars annually—customers have had to endure a confusing maze just to get their money back when due. Working through a tangle of processes, they have often had to wait on the line for hours or dig through websites to reclaim funds that are rightfully theirs.

According to the official statement, "Airlines must automatically issue refunds without passengers having to explicitly request them or jump through hoops." In this bid to make the process simpler, air passengers can expect their refunds within seven business days for credit card purchases and 20 calendar days for other forms of payment. If only a portion of the transportation was used, the refunds must be reflective of this, encompassing all government-imposed taxes and fees as well.

In line with the transparency theme, airlines are also required to be upfront about additional fees for checked and carry-on bags, as well as charges for reservation adjustments or cancellations. This allows travelers to discern the true cost of their flights and dodge unexpected expenses that often inflate the initially perceived cost of airfare. All fees need to be stated clearly from the first instance of fare and schedule information on any online platform. This measure arises from the administration's ambition to end the bait-and-switch techniques some airlines employ to mask the price of discounted flights.

Fueling the momentum for consumer protection, the administration has facilitated the return of over $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements to airline passengers since President Biden's time in office. This reflects an aggressive stance against airlines' consumer rights violations, with more than $164 million in fines levied for such abuses and commitments from airlines firmed up on free rebooking and accommodations during significant delays.

Moreover, the Department of Transportation is not just pausing at refunds and fee transparency. Under the same banner, they are preparing to introduce proposals that would eliminate specific charges altogether, such as those relating to family seating and expand the rights of passengers who use wheelchairs. These initiatives underscore the Administration's determined efforts to safeguard and elevate the standards of passenger treatment within the aviation industry.