Alexandria, VA, December 14, 2022 – Today, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to reverse course and not require travel advisors to pay client refunds out of pocket for cancelled flights when the agency is not in possession of the client’s funds.
This plea came as part of ASTA’s written comments in response to DOT’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on airline ticket refunds and consumer protections issued earlier this year.
“While we share the Department’s goal of ensuring consumers get the refunds they are entitled to when an airline cancels a flight, putting travel advisors ‘on the hook’ for issuing those refunds is the wrong way to do it,” said Zane Kerby, ASTA President & CEO. “In fact, it will negatively affect consumers in the long run as the financial risk associated with this proposal may lead agencies to stop selling air tickets altogether, depriving consumers of the valuable consultatory services and comparative shopping options advisors provide. We urge DOT to make the changes we’re suggesting.”
In ASTA’s filing, Peter Lobasso, the Society’s Senior Vice President & General Counsel, urges DOT to decline to impose in the final rule any requirement that travel advisors provide consumers with refunds in connection with cancelled or significantly changed flights.
Instead, the agent’s regulatory obligation should be limited to making reasonable efforts to assist the affected consumer in securing the refund from the carrier. If this is not feasible, we request that the final rule expressly limit a ticket agent’s obligation to issue a consumer refund only in circumstances where the ticket agent: i) is the merchant of record of the transaction; ii) has received notice from the airline that the passenger is entitled to receive a refund; and iii) is in possession of the consumer’s funds.
ASTA’s filing touches on several other elements of the sprawling, 115-page proposal, including DOT’s proposed definition of a significant flight change, a requirement to provide non-expiring vouchers, the ability of agencies to charge service fees, and more.
Modifying the Department’s refund proposal has been ASTA’s top policy priority since it was unveiled in early August. The Society’s ongoing advocacy campaign on the issue has featured testimony before a DOT advisory committee, facilitating members’ grassroots engagement (with over 500 comments submitted to the docket via ASTA.org so far), intense consultation with members of all business models, work with allied organizations and consumer groups, fielding member surveys and sharing concerns with our congressional allies.
After the public comment period closes on December 16, DOT will consider stakeholder concerns and is expected to issue a final rule some time in 2023.
ASTA’s full comments on the DOT proposal can be viewed here.