US lawmakers revise bill to ensure quick airline refunds

US lawmakers revise bill to ensure quick airline refunds

WASHINGTON--U.S. House and Senate negotiators agreed late Tuesday to revise language in an aviation reform bill to ensure quick refunds for airline passengers whose flights are cancelled and who are not seeking alternative flights.

On April 24, the U.S. Transportation Department finalized new rules that later this year will require automatic cash refunds for cancelled flights when passengers choose not to take a new flight. A bipartisan proposal in Congress released last week that said passengers must request the refunds had raised concerns the law could undercut a rule that would ensure people who bought non-refundable tickets got reimbursed for cancelled flights. But under revised language first reported by Reuters and made public Tuesday, refunds would be automatic in many instances. Automatic refunds would not apply if passengers rebooked and accepted a new flight. Senators hope the revised bill will win approval before a Friday deadline to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration for five years. Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, a Democrat who led the talks on the revised language, said, "Statutory rights to refunds are a big win for consumers in this bill. Passengers can reject vouchers or alternative flights, and without hassle, get a refund." Democratic Senator Ed Markey called the refund bill "a victory for airline consumers everywhere." A spokesperson for Senator Ted Cruz, the panel's top Republican, said he and Cantwell had agreed to add a "clarifying point affirming the right of consumers to get a refund if that is their preference." Senators Elizabeth Warren and Josh Hawley had proposed an amendment to make the refunds automatic and "crack down on burdensome corporate processes put in place to maximize airlines’ profits." The new provision is similar to what Warren and Hawley had sought. Neither the rule nor the legislation mandates compensation for delays -- as is required for some lengthy waits in the European Union. President Joe Biden said last May that the Transportation Department would propose new rules requiring airlines to compensate passengers with cash for significant controllable flight delays or cancellations. The nearly 1,100-page, $105 billion bill would also boost air traffic controller staffing and hike funding to avert runway close-call incidents. But it does not include a provision passed by the House of Representatives to raise the airline pilot retirement age to 67 from 65. The bill prohibits airlines from charging fees for families to sit together, adds five daily roundtrip flights at busy Washington National Airport and requires airlines to accept vouchers and credits for at least five years. The bill also requires airplanes to be equipped with 25-hour cockpit recording devices and directs the FAA to deploy advanced airport surface technology to help prevent collisions.

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