It’s been a turbulent travel season, with last minute flight changes, delays and, worse, canceled flights altogether, leading to anxiety and misery at some airport gates.
Nerves are especially high in advance of the upcoming popular Labor Day vacation weekend.
And now, there is at least one thing you can do about it: share your travel experiences, concerns and needed passenger protections with regulators.
New rules being considered now could lead to smoother travel for all passengers.
The Department of Transportation says so far in 2022, nearly one in four flights were delayed, and three out of 100 flights were canceled.
The Seyfried family out of Homewood saw this first-hand.
Three generations of their family – grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter – flew to Europe earlier this month.
It was a trip they said they had awaited all summer.
“It was everything that we could have hoped for, until the end,” daughter Jessica Seyfried said.
“[Jessica] had gotten a text or an email from the airlines, saying the flight was canceled,” Seyfried's mother Jeannine said.
Their flight from Dublin to Chicago was canceled in the wee hours of an Irish morning, as they were headed to the airport. They said they received no explanation from their airline as to why it was canceled.
The only detail they did get was that the next flight out was three days later.
“We can’t sit here for two more days," said Jeannine Seyfried, a public school teacher who needed to get back to Chicago to prepare for the fall semester.
Jessica Seyfried’s daughter and high school sophomore, Madison Seyfried, said she made it a point to keep her mother and grandmother calm.
“I could see my mom panicking, I could see my grandmother panicking,” Madison Seyfried said. “It was very stressful.”
In the end, the Seyfried family had to find their own way home, booking a flight on an alternate airline. Still, Madison Seyfried said she learned an unexpected lesson about present-day flying.
“We're so advanced in technology that I didn't think this would happen. I figured airlines would be able to figure it out in like, a few minutes, but it took like a whole day,” she said. “It was just baffling to me.”
Airline Industry Ultimatum
The feds have blamed the airlines for higher rates of cancelations and delays, accusing the companies of overscheduling flights.
Trade groups representing the airlines say they are experiencing a pilot shortage and overall staffing challenges, and that is what has led to travel disruptions.
The airlines say they have issued $21 billion in refunds since the onset of the pandemic, proof that each company has been complying with current rules and regulations surrounding when a passenger is owed a refund or flight voucher.
But now, the feds are questioning whether those rules in place go far enough. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttegieg told the TODAY Show last week that airlines have to do a better job supporting passengers when they experience delays or cancelations.
Buttegieg is giving the airline industry an ultimatum: Come up with improvements to passenger rights on your own, or else new laws will do it for you.
“I’m giving them an opportunity to raise the bar,” Buttigieg said.
In addition, the DOT is developing a website that will boil down each airline’s policies regarding cancellations and delays, all in one place. The goal is to launch that website by Labor Day weekend.
"The message to the airlines is that you’ve got to make it easier for passengers to understand their rights," Buttegieg said.
Newly Proposed Airline Refund Protections
Meanwhile, there are stronger protections to passengers’ rights in the works, but first, the feds are looking for passenger input on what needs changing.
Spurred by soaring complaints, newly proposed rules by the DOT could guarantee your right to a cash refund, meals, hotel and even future flight vouchers, if your flight is canceled or significantly delayed, for reasons within the airline’s control.
For years now, airlines have been mandated to provide refunds or flight vouchers if a flight is canceled or significantly changed.
Now, the new rules would define what a “significant change” to a flight means, including: a domestic flight’s departure or arrival time delayed by three hours or more, six hours for international flights, or changes to the airport where it was originally scheduled to land at or take off from.
“Significant changes” under the new rules would also include any itinerary alterations that increase the number of connecting flights a passenger needs to take to get to their destination.
The rules even include a proposed voucher system for passengers who have to cancel a flight due to a COVID-19 or future illness.
The DOT said, “The proposal would require that airlines and ticket agents provide passengers flight credits or vouchers that are valid indefinitely when passengers are unable to fly for certain pandemic related reasons, such as government-mandated bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers advised not to travel to protect their health or the health of other passengers.”
If approved, the new rules would not go into effect until next year, at the earliest. Scott Keyes is a passenger advocate, author and founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a website that helps passengers find the best airfare deals.
Keyes says the changes proposed here could be monumental.
“If this is enacted, this would be the largest expansion of travelers rights in decades,” Keyes said.
Those changes have not yet been finalized, and the traveling public has a chance to affect them.
The Department of Transportation is asking for public input over the next three months. Your voice, your opportunity to weigh in on the rules you may need to rely on years from now.
Keyes says the flying public should take advantage of this opportunity, otherwise the airlines will have their say.
“It's critical for individual travelers to make their voice heard here, so that it's not just the airlines in the industry and their lobbyists who are shaping what ultimately becomes law here,” Keyes told NBC 5. “Because at the end of the day, it's us individual travelers who are impacted by these rules.”
How to Comment on the New Flight Rules
Here’s how you can share your story, and comment on the DOT’s new rules:
1. Go to the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)” website for this specific proposal linked here.
2. Under the section “Browse Documents”, find the “Proposed Rule” titled “Airline Refunds and Consumer Protections”
3. Click on the blue “Comment” button
4. Share your thoughts in the Comments section. The DOT recommends keeping comments, whether they are in support or dissent of a regulatory action, constructive, clear and concise. Comments that follow those guidelines will be “more likely to have an impact on regulatory decision making,” the agency says.
5. It’s optional to share your email address, you are not required to.
6. Choose whether you would like to be identified as representing an individual, organization, or if you would like to share your thoughts anonymously.