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Refunds for Crappy In-Flight Wi-Fi and Other Airline Consumer Protections Could Be Coming Soon

A new proposed set of rules from the Biden Administration would foreground fees and better ensure people get what they paid for.

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The newly proposed rules would apply to both U.S. and international airlines operating in the U.S..
The newly proposed rules would apply to both U.S. and international airlines operating in the U.S..
Photo: vaalaa (Shutterstock)

In-flight Wi-Fi is a modern marvel: Connectivity beamed to your device mid-air, while you barrel through the atmosphere at hundreds of miles per hour. Unfortunately, it also often stinks. Service is frequently slow, breaks down, or never even gets started. And you can even end up shelling out money for Wi-Fi that doesn’t work.

But soon, airlines may at least have to refund passengers who pay for plane Wi-Fi but never get it. And airlines could also be forced into a new level of transparency surrounding baggage, family, flight change, and cancellation fees. The Biden Administration is proposing a set of new regulations to rein in the wild west of airline charges, and bring in a modicum more of consumer protections.


The refund rule would additionally apply to any other services paid for by airline customers, but not received (e.g. timely checked baggage delivery). And the broader proposal includes rules that would require that air carriers and third party travel sites “clearly disclose” fees—including charges associated with bags, flying with young children, and cancellations or flight changes—before tickets are purchased.

“Airline passengers deserve to know the full, true cost of their flights before they buy a ticket,” said Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Transportation Secretary in a Department of Transportation press 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.”


Related proposed rules would further mandate that airlines provide travel credit, non-expiring vouchers, or full refunds to people who miss flights because of covid or other communicable illness. Airlines would also be required to “proactively notify” passengers when they’re entitled to a flight refund when a flight is significantly changed or cancelled.

For context: DOT recently investigated 10 airlines for extreme delays in refunds for canceled flights. And the agency is now “pursuing enforcement action against them,” according to the department’s press statement.

All of the airline improvements come in response to an earlier Biden executive order focused on consumer protections and economic competition. And, if you have feelings about the forthcoming rules, you can voice your opinion. Public comment is open for the next 60 days. Don’t get too excited though, it could be many months before the rules advance from proposal to reality.