[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 150 (Friday, August 5, 2022)]
[Notices]
[Pages 48068-48071]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-16843]



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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Office of the Secretary

[Docket No. DOT-OST-2018-0190]


Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee; Notice of Public 
Meeting

AGENCY: Office of the Secretary (OST), Department of Transportation 
(DOT).

ACTION: Notice of public meeting.

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SUMMARY: This Notice announces the public meeting of the Aviation 
Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC), to be held virtually on 
the topic of airline ticket refunds and related consumer protection 
matters.

DATES: The virtual meeting will be held on Monday, August 22, 2022, 
from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time. The meeting is 
open to the public, subject to any technical and/or capacity 
limitations. Requests to attend the meeting must be submitted to 
https://usdot.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_e_B-NtXfT8KlqgoNCH3f7w. 
We encourage interested parties to register by Monday, August 15, 2022. 
Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) and sign language 
interpretation will be provided during the meeting. Requests for 
additional accommodations because of a disability must be received at 
[email protected] by August 15, 2022. If you wish to speak 
during the meeting, you should submit a request at 
[email protected] no later than August 15, 2022.

ADDRESSES: The virtual meeting will be open to the public and held via 
the Zoom Webinar Platform. Virtual attendance information will be 
provided upon registration. An agenda will be available on the 
Department's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection website at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/ACPAC in advance of the meeting.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: To register and attend this virtual 
meeting, please use the link: https://usdot.zoomgov.com/webinar/register/WN_e_B-NtXfT8KlqgoNCH3f7w. Attendance is open to the public 
subject to any technical and/or capacity limitations. For further 
information, please contact Cristina Draguta, Attorney-Advisor, by 
email at [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

I. Background

    The ACPAC evaluates the Department of Transportation's current 
aviation consumer protection programs and provides recommendations to 
the Secretary for improving them, as well as recommending any 
additional consumer protections that may be needed.
    The subject of airline ticket refunds was discussed in an ACPAC 
meeting held on December 2, 2021. The Department planned for the ACPAC 
to continue its discussion on airline ticket refunds after issuance of 
the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Airline Ticket Refunds and 
Consumer Protections (RIN 2105-AF04). On August 2, 2022, the Department 
issued the NPRM, which is available at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/latest-news. The Department is now scheduling a meeting to 
provide the ACPAC further opportunity to discuss issues related to 
airline ticket refunds, particularly the proposals in the Department's 
NPRM.

II. Agenda

    During the August 22, 2022, meeting, the Department will provide an 
opportunity for public input and continue the discussion on airline 
ticket refunds and related consumer protection matters. Regarding 
airline ticket refunds, the Department's NPRM proposes, pursuant to 49 
U.S.C. 41712, which prohibits U.S. air carriers, foreign air carriers, 
and ticket agents from engaging in unfair practices in the sale of air 
transportation, to require carriers and ticket agents to provide 
requested refunds to passengers when a carrier cancels or significantly 
changes a flight to, from, or within the United States. The 
Department's existing rule has not defined the terms ``significant 
change'' and ``cancellation'' in regulation or statute. The Department 
proposes to clarify and codify that, under the Department's rule 
requiring airlines to provide prompt refunds when ticket refunds are 
due and its rule requiring ticket agents to make refunds promptly when 
service cannot be performed as contracted, carriers and ticket agents 
must provide prompt ticket refunds to passengers when a carrier cancels 
or makes a significant change to a flight. The NPRM further proposes to 
define cancellation and significant change, including addressing 
whether new itineraries involving delayed arrivals or early departures 
of a certain length or additional stops constitute a significant change 
requiring a refund. The NPRM also addresses protections for consumers 
who are restricted or prohibited from traveling or determine not to 
travel consistent with public health guidance related to a serious 
communicable disease. Comments on the NPRM may be submitted into the 
rulemaking Docket (DOT-OST-2022-0089) at any time during the public 
comment period, including before and after the ACPAC meeting. This 
meeting will allow the ACPAC to hear from all interested stakeholders 
regarding the Department's proposals and what ACPAC should consider as 
it determines what recommendations, if any, to make to the Secretary on 
this topic.

III. Public Participation

    The August 22, 2022, meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m. EST, and the 
Department will provide time for opening remarks and present a summary 
of the Department's relevant regulations, an overview of the December 
ACPAC meeting, and an overview of the NPRM. The meeting will then 
transition to input from participants, including members of the public. 
There will be a lunch break and further input and discussion will 
continue in the afternoon to help inform the ACPAC members on what they 
should consider when making recommendations, if any, on this topic. To 
inform and enable the public to provide input, the Department 
summarizes the main proposals of the NPRM below and seeks information 
on the following questions regarding these proposals:

1. Ticket Refunds Due to Airline Cancellations and Significant Changes 
of Itineraries

a. Defining Significant Changes of Itineraries
    The Proposal:
    A ``significant change of flight itinerary'' is defined as a change 
to a covered flight itinerary made by a covered carrier where:
    (1) the consumer is scheduled to depart from the origination 
airport three hours or more for domestic itineraries and six hours or 
more for international itineraries earlier than the original scheduled 
departure time;
     (2) the consumer is scheduled to arrive at the destination airport 
three hours or more for domestic itineraries and six hours or more for 
international itineraries later than the original scheduled arrival 
time;
    (3) the consumer is scheduled to depart from a different 
origination airport or arrive at a different destination airport;
    (4) the consumer is scheduled to travel on an itinerary with more 
connection points than that of the original itinerary;
    (5) the consumer is downgraded to a lower class of service; or
    (6) the passenger is scheduled to travel on a different type of 
aircraft with

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a significant downgrade of the available amenities and travel 
experiences.
    Question 1(a)(i): Should the Department define a ``significant 
change of flight itinerary'' that would result in a consumer being 
entitled to a ticket refund or should the Department continue its 
current practice to allow airlines to determine their own standards for 
flight itinerary changes that lead to refund eligibility?
    Question 1(a)(ii): If the Department adopts a standard for 
significant early departure or arrival delays that would result in 
refund eligibility, should the standard be a set number of hours based 
on domestic vs. international itineraries, as proposed in the NPRM, or 
a tiered standard based on the total travel duration of an itinerary? 
Is there any other objective benchmark that should be considered as the 
basis of calculating whether a refund is due because of flight delays 
and early departures?
    Question 1(a)(iii): Should the Department's rule consider the 
change of origination or destination airport, or the increase of the 
number of connections a significant change that would result in a 
refund due?
    Question 1(a)(iv): What types of aircraft downgrade should be 
considered as a basis for a consumer to request a refund? Should the 
determination be made on a case-by-case basis? Are there certain types 
of changes in amenities or air travel experience as the results of 
aircraft downgrade that should automatically be considered significant 
for purposes of requiring a refund be offered?
    Question 1(a)(v): Are there any other itinerary changes not 
proposed in the NPRM that should be considered ``significant'' for 
purposes of requiring a refund be offered?
b. Forms of Refund
    The Proposal:
     Airlines and ticket agents must refund passengers by 
returning the money in the original form of payment or by providing the 
refund in cash or a form of cash equivalent.
     Cash equivalent is defined as a form of payment that can 
be used like cash, including but not limited to a check, a prepaid 
card, funds transferred to the passenger's bank account, funds provided 
through digital payment methods (e.g., PayPal, Venmo), or a gift card 
that is widely accepted in commerce.
     Airlines and ticket agents may offer other compensation 
choices such as travel credits or vouchers and store gift cards in lieu 
of refunds but must first inform consumers that they are entitled to a 
refund if that is the case.
     Airlines and ticket agents must disclose material 
restrictions, conditions, and limitations on the compensation options 
provided to the consumer.
    Question 1(b)(i): Should the Department's rule mandate that refunds 
must be provided in the original form of payment, or should the 
Department allow airlines and ticket agents to choose another form of 
payment that is cash or cash equivalent?
    Question 1(b)(ii): How should the form of refund affect the refund 
deadlines? For example, if a passenger purchased the ticket with a 
credit card but agrees to accept the refund by a check, which refund 
deadline (7 days or 20 days) should apply?
c. Obligations on Ticket Agents
    The Proposal:
     Ticket agents must provide prompt refunds to consumers 
when an airline cancels or makes a significant change to a flight 
itinerary that the ticket agents sold directly to consumers (i.e., the 
ticket agents' identities are shown in the consumers' financial charge 
statements).
     Ticket agents are permitted to deduct the service fee for 
booking travel or issuing tickets from the refund or charge a fee for 
issuing the refund, as long as the amount of the fee is based on a per-
passenger basis and the existence of the fee was clearly and 
prominently disclosed to consumers at the time of ticket purchase.
    Question 1(c)(i): For an itinerary purchased from or through a 
ticket agent, which entity (the ticket agent or the airline) should be 
responsible for the refund when it is due? Is it reasonable to require 
the entity that ``sold'' the itinerary (i.e., the entity that shows in 
the consumer's financial charge statement) be responsible for the 
refund?
    Question 1(c)(ii): When issuing a refund requires actions by both a 
ticket agent and an airline, should the Department hold both entities 
liable regardless of which entity ``sold'' the ticket?
    Question 1(c)(iii): If a ticket agent is relying on an airline to 
confirm that the consumer is eligible for a refund, should the 
Department allow the mandatory refund timeframes (7 days for credit 
card refund and 20 days for other forms of refund) to start only when 
the airline confirms refund eligibility?
    Question 1(c)(iv): When issuing a refund that is due, is it 
reasonable to allow the ticket agents to retain the service charges for 
issuing the original tickets as the service has already been provided? 
Should the Department require that ticket agents clearly disclose such 
a fee retention when consumers purchase tickets?

2. Providing Travel Vouchers to Consumers Who are Restricted or 
Prohibited From Traveling, or Determine Not To Travel Due to Concerns 
Related to a Serious Communicable Disease

a. Providing Travel Credits or Vouchers to Consumers Who Are Restricted 
or Prohibited From Traveling or Who Determine Not To Travel Consistent 
With Public Health Guidance Related to a Serious Communicable Disease
    The Proposal:
     Airlines and ticket agents must provide non-expiring 
travel credits or vouchers to a consumer if, after purchasing the 
tickets, a government order was issued to prohibit the consumer from 
leaving the origination or entering into the destination or transition 
point, or if the government order renders the consumer's travel 
meaningless.
    Question 2(a)(i): Should the Department's consumer protection rule 
cover only situations in which travel is made physically impossible by 
a government restriction (e.g., stay-at-home order or border closure) 
or should it also cover situations in which the restriction renders the 
travel meaningless (e.g., a situation in which a consumer traveling to 
attend an event would miss the event because of a mandatory quarantine 
requirement at the destination)?
    Question 2(a)(ii): Should this requirement only apply during a 
public health emergency or apply whenever a government restriction or 
prohibition on travel related to a communicable disease is imposed?
    Question 2(a)(iii): What types of evidentiary documents should 
airlines and ticket agents be permitted to request as a condition to 
issue credits or vouchers under this requirement?
b. Providing Travel Credits or Vouchers to Consumers Who Are Advised by 
a Medical Professional or Determine Consistent With Public Health 
Guidance Not To Travel To Protect Themselves From a Serious 
Communicable Disease During a Public Health Emergency
    The Proposal:
     Airlines and ticket agents must provide non-expiring 
travel credits or vouchers to consumers who are advised by a medical 
professional or determine consistent with public health guidance issued 
by the CDC, comparable foreign agencies, or WHO not to travel by air to 
protect themselves from a serious communicable disease during a public 
health emergency.

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    Question 2(b)(i): Is it reasonable to require airlines and ticket 
agents to issue travel credits or vouchers to consumers, who have 
purchased their tickets before the declaration of a public health 
emergency, because they have been advised by a medical professional or 
determined, consistent with public health guidance, that they need to 
postpone or cancel travel to protect themselves from a serious 
communicable disease?
    Question 2(b)(ii): Should this requirement also cover consumers who 
have purchased their tickets after the declaration of the public health 
emergency but later find out that certain conditions (e.g., the 
consumer's health condition) have changed and because of such change 
they need to postpone or cancel travel?
    Question 2(b)(iii): Should this requirement cover only consumers 
who have legitimate concerns about their own health conditions, or 
should this requirement also cover:
     consumers who are reluctant to travel because of the risk 
they may bring to others (e.g., family members they care for); and/or
     consumers who are unable to travel alone because their 
travel companion decides not to travel due to health reasons (e.g., the 
minor child of a consumer who decides not to travel to protect his or 
her own health)?
    Question 2(b)(iv): What types of evidentiary documents should 
airlines and ticket agents be permitted to request as a condition for 
issuance of credits or vouchers under this requirement?
    The proposal:
     Regardless whether there is a public health emergency, 
airlines and ticket agents must provide a non-expiring travel credit or 
voucher to a consumer who is advised by a medical professional or 
determines consistent with public health guidance issued by CDC, 
comparable foreign agencies, or WHO not to travel by air because the 
consumer has or may have contracted a serious communicable disease and 
the consumer's condition is such that traveling on a commercial flight 
would pose a direct threat to the health of others.
c. Providing Travel Credits or Vouchers to Consumers Who Have or May 
Have a Serious Communicable Disease
    Question 2(c)(i): Is it reasonable to define a serious communicable 
disease, for the purpose of requesting a travel credit or voucher, as a 
communicable disease that is readily transmissible in the aircraft 
cabin environment and would likely cause significant health 
consequences?
    Question 2(c)(ii): Are there concerns about potential abuse of this 
requirement? To prevent abuse, is it reasonable for airlines or ticket 
agents to request a written statement by a medical professional for the 
specific consumer requesting the credit or voucher?
    Question 2(c)(iii): Instead of issuing travel credits or vouchers, 
are there other ways to protect the interests of affected consumes and 
promote public health, such as requiring airlines and ticket agents to 
waive the ticket change fees or keep the ticket open for future travel?
d. Type and Value of Travel Credits or Vouchers, Supporting 
Documentation, and Service Fees
    The proposal:
     The travel vouchers or credits provided to eligible 
consumers must be non-expiring.
     The value of the credit or voucher must be equal to or 
greater than the fare (including taxes and fees and unused ancillary 
service fees); ticket agents are allowed to deduct from the value any 
service fees paid for the issuance of the original ticket.
     Carriers and ticket agents may not impose conditions, 
limitations, and restrictions on the credits or vouchers that are 
unreasonable and would materially reduce their value in comparison to 
the original purchase prices. 
     To determine whether a consumer is eligible for the travel 
credit or voucher under this proposal, airlines and ticket agents may 
require the consumer to present supporting documentation, as 
appropriate, such as government travel restriction orders or a 
statement from a medical professional.
     Airlines and ticket agents may impose a service fee for 
issuing the credit or voucher; the existence of the fee must be 
disclosed to consumers at the time of ticket sale.
    Question 2(d)(i): Is it reasonable to require airlines and ticket 
agents to issue non-expiring travel credits or vouchers to consumers 
who are restricted or prohibited from traveling, or advised by a 
medical professional or determines consistent with public health 
guidance not to travel due to concerns of a serious communicable 
disease? Instead of non-expiring credits or vouchers, is it adequate 
for consumer protection purpose to require the credit or vouchers be 
transferrable but with a limited validity period? Should airlines and 
ticket agents be required to allow multiple transfers?
    Question 2(d)(ii): What type of travel credits or vouchers would be 
preferred by most consumers--credits or vouchers of the same or greater 
value of the original ticket price, or credits or vouchers redeemable 
for the same itinerary in the future regardless of the price?
    Question 2(d)(iii): Is it reasonable to allow carriers and ticket 
agents to charge a service fee for issuing the travel credits or 
vouchers?

3. Providing Refunds to Consumers Who Are Restricted or Prohibited From 
Traveling, or Advised by a Medical Professional or Determine Consistent 
With Public Health Guidance Not To Travel, Due to Concerns Related to a 
Serious Communicable Disease During a Public Health Emergency if 
Airlines or Ticket Agents Receive Significant Government Financial 
Assistance

    The proposal:
     When there is a declaration of a public health emergency 
and DOT has published a determination that a covered carrier or ticket 
agent received significant government financial assistance as a result 
of the public health emergency, the covered airline or ticket agent 
must provide a requested refund to a consumer in lieu of the non-
expiring travel credit or voucher as required by the proposal.
     In order to receive the refund, an eligible consumer must 
make a request from the carrier or ticket agent within 12 months of the 
date that DOT publishes a determination that the government financial 
assistance received by the carrier or ticket agent is significant.
     Airlines and ticket agents may charge a service fee for 
issuing the refund and may require supporting documentation from 
consumers to prove eligibility.
    Question (3)(a): Should airlines and ticket agents be required to 
provide refunds, in lieu of travel credits or vouchers, to eligible 
consumers who are restricted, prohibited, or advised not to travel 
during a public health emergency due to concerns related to a serious 
communicable disease if the airlines or ticket agents receive 
significant government financial assistance related to that public 
health emergency?
    Question (3)(b): For the purpose of this requirement, should the 
Department consider not only Federal government financial assistance 
provided to U.S. airlines and ticket agents, but also foreign central 
government financial assistance provided to foreign airlines and ticket 
agents selling air transportation to the United States?
    Question (3)(c): Is the process proposed in the NPRM to determine 
what government financial assistance is ``significant'' reasonable 
(i.e., for each

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public health emergency, the Department would apply relevant factors in 
the determination and seek public comments before finalizing the 
threshold)?
    Question (3)(d): What factors should be considered when the 
Department determines whether the amount of government financial 
assistance provided to an airline or ticket agent is ``significant''? 
Is it reasonable to consider the size of the entity (annual 
enplanements for airlines, annual revenue and the number of employees 
for airlines and ticket agents), year-over-year comparison of traffic 
and revenue before and after the declaration of the public health 
emergency, the among of government financial assistance accepted in 
relation to the entity's annual revenue? Is it reasonable to also 
consider a foreign carrier's annual enplanement to and from the United 
States in addition to total enplanement globally? What other 
considerations are relevant in this determination? Should there be 
different standards for airlines and for ticket agents?
    Question (3)(e): Is it reasonable to require consumers, who have 
not already requested a travel credit or voucher, to make a refund 
request from the airlines or ticket agents within 12 months after a 
determination has been made by the Department that the airline or 
ticket agent has received ``significant'' government financial 
assistance?
    At the August meeting, individual members of the public will have 
an opportunity to make remarks. However, depending on the volume of 
requests for oral comments that we receive and the time available, we 
may not be able to hear from everyone who submitted a request. Any oral 
comments presented must be limited to the objectives of the committee 
and will be limited to three (3) minutes per person. Individual members 
of the public who wish to present oral comments must notify the 
Department of Transportation, no later than Monday, August 15, 2022, 
via email at [email protected] that they wish to present oral 
comments. The email should (1) identify (by the question number as 
listed in this Notice) the specific question(s) on which you wish to 
provide comments; (2) state the organization or entity you are 
representing or that you are speaking as a member of the public; and 
(3) provide a written summary of the oral comments you wish to present 
at the meeting on the question(s). Due to the limited time during the 
meeting, the Department will review all speaking request submissions 
and notify those who are selected to speak in advance of the meeting. 
If there is an interest in addressing a question not identified in this 
Notice but related to airline ticket refunds, please identify that 
topic in your request. All prepared remarks submitted on time will be 
accepted and considered as part of the meeting's record.
    Members of the public who do not wish to speak at the meeting but 
have comments that are specifically directed to the ACPAC members for 
consideration may submit their written comments electronically at any 
time prior to August 19, 2022, to the ACPAC Docket (DOT-OST-2018-0190). 
In addition, any substantive comments on the NPRM to be considered by 
the Department in the rulemaking should be submitted into the NPRM 
Docket (DOT-OST-2022-0089) directly.

IV. Viewing Documents

    Documents associated with the ACPAC may be accessed in the ACPAC 
Docket (DOT-OST-2018-0190). Documents associated with the NPRM on 
Airline Ticket Refunds and Consumer Protections may be accessed in the 
rulemaking Docket (DOT-OST-2022-0089). Dockets may be accessed at 
https://www.regulations.gov. After entering the relevant docket number 
click the link to ``Open Docket Folder'' and choose the document to 
review.

    Signed in Washington, DC, on this 2nd day of August 2022.
John E. Putnam,
General Counsel.
[FR Doc. 2022-16843 Filed 8-4-22; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-9X-P