Airlines May Have to Refund Fliers for Delayed Bags

It’s a frustration that many frequent fliers know—that sinking feeling when your flight safely arrives at its destination, but your checked bag is nowhere to be found.

Now, federal regulators are working to ease at least some of the irritation of this all too common scenario. Under a new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation, U.S. airlines would have to refund travelers’ fees when checked bags are significantly delayed. 

Current regulations say that airlines are only compelled to refund passenger bag fees when checked luggage is lost. Under the new rules, fliers would get their money back when bags are delayed beyond 12 hours for domestic flights and beyond 25 hours for international flights.

If passed, the new rule would be a major win for consumers. In recent years, airlines have steadily raised fees for checked baggage, with the average price for the first checked bag clocking in at $30. U.S. airlines made a collective $5.7 billion off bag fees in 2019—making luggage one of the industry’s most lucrative charges. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, nearly 2 million bags were reported as mishandled by airlines in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available.

“After years of the powerful airline industry getting everything it wants at the expense of consumers, the actions by the administration and U.S. Department of Transportation are a long-awaited breath of fresh air for the flying public,” Kevin Mitchell, chairman and founder of the Business Travel Coalition, said in a statement.

But it’s not just bag refunds that airlines could now be on the hook for: The proposed rule also would require air carriers refund payments for other ancillary services that they don’t deliver on. This would include fees for perks like Wi-Fi access or advance seat selection—services that fliers might pay for, but the airlines don’t end up providing in the end.

“Consumers deserve to receive the services they pay for or to get their money back when they don’t,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a release. The DOT’s proposal is open for a 60-day public comment period before regulators decide on a final action.

The new rules were officially proposed on July 9, the same day President Biden signed a vast executive order to promote competition in the U.S. economy, including in the airline industry. As part of the executive order, Biden also instructed the DOT to enhance “consumer access to airline flight information so that consumers can more easily find a broader set of available flights, including by new or lesser known airlines.”

Biden’s order also tells the DOT to submit a report on its progress in investigating airlines that engaged in deceptive practices around refunds for canceled flights during the pandemic. 

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