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Automatic Refunds and No More Hidden Fees: D.O.T. Sets New Rules for Airlines

The Transportation Department on Wednesday announced new rules taking aim at two of the most difficult and annoying issues in air travel: obtaining refunds and encountering surprise fees late in the booking process.

“Passengers deserve to know upfront what costs they are facing and should get their money back when an airline owes them — without having to ask,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement, adding that the changes would not only save passengers “time and money,” but also prevent headaches.

The department’s new rules, Mr. Buttigieg said, will hold airlines to clear and consistent standards when they cancel, delay or substantially change flights, and require automatic refunds to be issued within weeks. They will also require them to reveal all fees before a ticket is purchased.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing the country’s largest air carriers, said in a statement that its airlines “abide by and frequently exceed” D.O.T. consumer protection regulations.

Passenger advocates welcomed the new steps.

Tomasz Pawliszyn, the chief executive of AirHelp, a Berlin-based company that assists passengers with airline claims, called it a “massive step forward and huge improvement in consumer rights and protection” that brings the United States closer to global standards in passenger rights.

Here’s what we know about the D.O.T.’s new rules, which will begin to go into effect in October.

There’s now one definition for a “significant” delay.

Until now, airlines have been allowed to set their own definition for a “significant” delay and compensation has varied by carrier. Now, according to the D.O.T., there will be one standard: when departure or arrival is delayed by three hours for domestic flights and six hours for international flights.

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