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Airlines would have to give out refunds for busted Wi-Fi under proposed rule

Airlines would have to give out refunds for busted Wi-Fi under proposed rule


The Biden administration is proposing a host of new rules to require more transparency about all the added fees for air travel, which could have a huge impact on how we all fly.

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An airplane on the tarmac in Los Angeles
Airlines would have to provide more transparency about all the fees you pay to fly under new proposed rules.
Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Airlines would have to refund passengers for services they paid for that aren’t actually provided, like broken Wi-Fi, under new rules proposed by the Biden administration. Also, airlines and travel search websites would have to disclose upfront any added fees for changing or canceling your flight and for checked or carry-on baggage.

The new rules are part of a slate of changes the US Department of Transportation is proposing to make flying more transparent and consumer-friendly after a particularly rocky summer travel season, in which flight cancellations spiked. The administration has previously sought stricter rules for passenger refunds, arguing that it wants to make air travel more competitive.

Airlines have moved in recent years to charge passengers for perks that used to be included in the price of a ticket, including checking a bag and selecting a seat with added legroom.

“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket”

“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket,” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement. “This new proposed rule would require airlines to be transparent with customers about the fees they charge, which will help travelers make informed decisions and save money.”

Under the proposed rule, US and foreign airlines, as well as third-party online ticket sellers and aggregators, would be required to “clearly disclose passenger-specific or itinerary-specific baggage fees, change fees, cancellation fees, and family seating fees to consumers whenever fare and schedule information is provided to consumers for flights to, within, and from the United States,” USDOT says.

Under existing rules, passengers are entitled to a fee refund if bags are lost but not when delayed. Also, customers do not typically receive a refund for unreliable Wi-Fi on planes. And when refunds are warranted, the airlines and other third-party companies are usually very slow in giving them out, according to USDOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, which recently concluded an investigation of 10 airlines. The office is now pursuing enforcement action against them for “extreme delays in providing refunds for flights the airlines canceled or significantly changed,” the department said.

Recent studies have shown that airplane Wi-Fi is slow and usually prohibitively expensive. But it’s also not easy to provide, relying on updated technology in the plane itself as well as a network of satellites and ground links. Some experts say the technology will improve over time, but in the near term, airlines will have to refund customers if Wi-Fi service is crappier than usual under these proposed rules.

The rules are open for public comment for the next 60 days but could take many more months before going into effect.