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Department of Transportation Proposes New Rule That Would Require Airlines to Issue Full Refunds to Travelers Who Cancel Due to Illness

The Department of Transportation is pushing for added protections for travelers who need to cancel their flights due to illnesses.

The proposal comes as Monkeypox and COVID-19 are rising in the United States. The DOT is asking that airlines begin issuing vouchers with no expiration date or cash reimbursements to travelers who contract any communicable disease.

Under the current ruling, passengers usually only have financial protections when the airline cancels or abruptly changes their flight. Though many airlines waived change fees in the early days of the pandemic, travelers often lose money when they decide to cancel trips. In many cases, there were no exceptions made for people who withdrew due to exposure to COVID-19. Airlines would be required to issue flight credits to those who cancel their plans due to quarantine requirements and sickness. If airlines receive future government bailouts, the new rule would require them to issue full refunds instead of vouchers.

“This new proposed rule would protect the rights of travelers and help ensure they get the timely refunds they deserve from the airlines,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said that “enough is enough” during Monday’s introduction of the bill. He strongly believes that travelers are legally entitled to full refunds in the event that they are sick and should not have to fight with airlines to get their money back. Of the 102,560 consumer complaints received in 2020, 87% of them concerned airline refunds. Last year, 49,958 complaints came in, and 60% of those were also voicing displeasure about the repayments, according to the DOT.

The DOT’s proposed new laws are open to public comment for 90 days.

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