Some consumer rights for air travelers proposed by White House. Airplane seat-selection fees and refunds.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the September 2021 issue.
The Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, include the Warriors’ Temple pictured here.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 546th issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine, keeping the travel embers glowing.

Fair is fair. On July 9, President Biden signed an executive order proposing sets of rules to encourage competition and expand consumer rights across many markets, including air travel.

The order directs the US Department of Transportation, led by Secretary Pete Buttigieg, to propose a rule requiring airlines to promptly refund any fees for services paid for by passengers but not provided by the airline, including checked-bag fees for luggage that is delayed at least 12 hours or lost.

Airlines are already required by US law to compensate passengers for lost bags or bags that are unreasonably delayed (usually by more than 12 hours, but the time limit may be longer or shorter in certain circumstances); the compensation is up to $3,500 for domestic flights and up to only about $1,780 on international ones. Currently, however, airlines are allowed to keep any checked-bag fees.

Passengers do need to prove actual losses or damages when filing claims for compensation.

The executive order also asks that a separate rule be proposed requiring that all possible fees on air tickets, such as change fees and cancellation fees, be disclosed before purchase.

The two airline-related proposals had to be submitted within 45 days and 90 days, respectively, of the order’s signing and must first be passed into federal law, which had not occurred by press time, before they can be enforced.

Speaking of fees…

A decade or so ago, airlines began charging flyers a number of add-on fees, one of them being the seat-selection fee. This is charged when a passenger, who typically has purchased a ticket for the lowest fare class, wants to choose a particular seat instead of being assigned one at boarding.

Someone may do this in order to get a seat on the aisle or next to a window or more toward the front or the back, but, except for the extra legroom available with a small number of seats, the quality of the seat and the level of service don’t change.

One thing that many people are unaware of is that, often, depending on the airline and seating class, these seat-selection fees are non-refundable. However, many more people became aware of this last year in the flurry of flight cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seat-selection fees are always refunded if the airline cancels the flight, switches the passenger to a different airplane or moves the passenger to a seat he did not choose.

In most cases, however, these fees will not be refunded if the passenger, himself, cancels or reschedules his flight (and that includes when a passenger cancels a flight due to concerns about contracting COVID-19). The exception, under US law, is that if someone cancels a flight within 24 hours of purchase, the entire cost is refunded, including any seat-selection fee.

Among the three major airlines in the US, American Airlines’ and Delta Air Lines’ seat-selection fees are always non-refundable when the passenger cancels his flight, but United Airlines will refund the fee even if the passenger cancels. International airlines, such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Emirates, typically will not refund the seat-selection fee when a passenger cancels his flight.

In the last year, ITN received a number of letters in which travelers lamented not getting their seat-selection fees refunded after canceling their flights. In one case, an ITN subscriber got a refund from British Air for two seat-selection fees because, luckily for him, both the flights he had canceled ended up being canceled by the airline (Feb. ’21, pg. 17).

In other cases, however, there was nothing that travelers could do about securing the refunds because the airlines had followed the terms and conditions of their contracts, which passengers agree to when purchasing tickets.

Of course, any passenger is always free to request a refund, even on a non-refundable seat-selection fee, and he might get one as a goodwill exception, but, if there are restrictions against it in the terms and conditions, anyone trying for that should temper their expectations.

Completing the equation —

After reading Norman Dailey’s March 2021 trip write-up, “Egypt and Jordan with Native Eye Travel” (Aug. ’21, pg. 10), his fellow ITN subscriber Edna Alvarez noted that his report included the cost of his custom trip but not the length.

In a follow-up, Norman wrote that the Egypt portion ran April 21-May 1 and the Jordan portion, May 1-5.

I like announcing improvements to our website. This one’s about better browsing.

The “Far Horizons” column in our June 2021 issue was the last in which ITN Contributing Editor Randy Keck presented “On-the-Road Travel Tips” submitted by subscribers. So many readers offered helpful travel advice, the series ran for an amazing 15 months!

Jim Royle of San Diego, California, had a tip in part 15 and later wrote, “I’ve enjoyed all the travelers’ ideas and insights and wonder if all the parts of the series couldn’t be merged and made more accessible on the ITN website.”

ITN’s Webmaster, Demian LeClair, has now made that happen. On the homepage,, just type “On-the-Road Travel Tips” into the search bar or, instead, click on “Departments,” “Columns” and “Far Horizons,” then on any part in the series.

Off to the right, you’ll see a box headed “This item is part of a series,” followed by “Part 1,” “Part 2,” etc. This setup allows you to go directly to any part, rather than just having links at the top and bottom of each part that take you to the “previous” or “next” one in the series.

But Demian took Jim’s suggestion one step further and has begun adding “This item is part of a series” boxes to other multipart articles and series on our website, including compilations of subscribers’ letters on various “Calling All Readers!” subjects (such as “Pleasant Travel Surprises”).

It just makes navigating the ITN website a little more convenient.

I’d like to end this month’s column with a letter we received recently that brightened our day. It came from Carl H. Haag of Princeton, New Jersey, and he wrote, “Hi, ITN. My world travels began when I enlisted in the army and was sent to Tokyo for over a year. At Antioch College, I began leading Canadian Youth Hostels bike trips through Europe.

“When I got married, Carol and I picked up our newly minted MGB and toured/camped through Northern Europe. Later, our family of four exchanged homes with folks from Mexico, England and Slovenia. We even navigated a rented narrow houseboat on canals in England. I have also had the good fortune to travel to China, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Kenya and Tanzania.

“To support my habit, I began to get a number of travel publications. There were some quite good ones and a few colorful ones that I stopped getting early on. International Travel News was one of the early ones and one of the only magazines I read cover to cover. I even sent in a couple of travel reports (plus a photo for the ‘Where in the World?’ page that nobody got [see Dec. ’05 issue — Ed.]).

“I began shedding travel publications as I got older until there was only ITN. Then, when it became clear I never wanted to fly again and would not leave the country, I decided to not subscribe to ITN because my time on Earth was running out and there were things I needed to do.

“However, it was clear to me that ITN had mattered to me for decades, so I am sending you something to support your efforts. This is not for a subscription, so please do not send magazines; they are hard to resist still, but, at almost 93, I cannot afford to be enticed.

“Hope you have much success in your endeavor. Cheers!”

Your sentiments and support are greatly appreciated, Carl. It means a lot to all of us at ITN to know that this magazine holds a special place in people’s hearts (even if not on their shelves). Thank you so much.