Major US airlines have been given until May 28th to respond to senators’ questions regarding refunds during the pandemic. Most airlines have been issuing credits instead of full refunds for canceled flights. However, as credits begin to expire, some travelers may find themselves unable to travel and without a refund.
US senators first raised the issue of refunds for canceled flights during the pandemic back in April 2020. Airlines have been issuing credits rather than providing refunds in attempts to keep the cash. Some airlines have been issuing cash refunds, but only when the airline canceled the flight and rarely when passengers canceled their tickets due to restrictions.
Time for a policy change
However, Democratic senators are again calling on airlines to revaluate their refund policies. Most airlines originally offered credits for flights. This allowed the airlines to keep the cash from ticket sales. However, most flight credits have a year deadline meaning they will soon expire, leaving some people without a refund and without credits. Some credits have already expired.
The two senators, Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, wrote to airlines today with a series of questions regarding refund policies. According to the letters, airlines are currently sitting on a total of $10 billion of unused credits. The letters go on to ask why airlines cannot provide refunds and suggest that, at a minimum, airlines should not put an expiration date on pandemic-related travel credits.
The senators point out the inconsistencies in refund and credit policies. Some airlines allow credits to be used over multiple trips up to the value of the credit. Others only allow credits to be used on one flight and will wipe any remaining credit. This means that passengers may lose money or end up buying a more expensive ticket or letting the credit expire. As the senators note, some people may end up flying when they feel unsafe for the sake of using the credits.
An industry response
The letters are addressed to the following airlines; Alaska, Allegiant Air, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United. In the letters, the senators ask for responses to a series of questions regarding credit policy, the clarity of the policy, the type of credits, and the ease of credit use.
A deadline has been set for May 18th for airlines to respond. Although there has been no call for industry-wide standard policy implementation, the letters are identical and ask the same questions. If just one of the airlines responds by changing its policy, it could win public favor and pressure other airlines to follow suit. We could well see a general rule put in place specifically for pandemic-related travel credits.
If this is the case, there are sure to be some bumps along the road. For example, if a passenger cancels their ticket because they personally feel unsafe, but the flight operates, would it qualify as pandemic-related? Refining that line will be tough. But it’s a long way off. For many who already have expired credits or had to buy more expensive tickets and therefore lost money, any response from the airlines would be progress.
What do you think of travel credits? Should airlines extend deadlines as the pandemic continues? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.