A group of nine US Senators have written to airlines expressing their opinion that cash refunds should be offered for passengers. As many airlines struggle with refunds and offer vouchers instead, will this have an effect on US airlines?
Difficulties for airlines offering refunds
Airlines around the world are facing difficulties refunding customers during the current COVID-19 pandemic. With many of them grounding flights, the bills they face for refunds are enormous. Many airlines are trying to offer changes or vouchers to customers instead of cash refunds, and are pushing the industry for authority to do so.
The situation differs around the world and is changing quickly. In Canada for example, the Canadian Transportation Agency has said it is appropriate for airlines to issue vouchers, but they should have reasonable validity. In Europe, airlines are lobbying to be allowed to issue vouchers that can be refunded after 12 months. And some airlines, including Qatar Airways, are offering higher refunds if taken with vouchers.
In the US, most airlines are waiving cancellation and change fees, but many are offering refunds only as travel vouchers. The US Department for Transportation has not issued any further guidance.
US Senators get involved
The situation has stepped up in the US after nine US senators wrote to the chief executives of 11 US airlines. They expressed their views that full cash refunds, not travel vouchers, should be offered to passengers canceling flights during the pandemic. You can read the full letter in this post on One Mile At A Time.
The letter has been sent by Senators Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Bob Casey. They write:
“We write to urge your airline to issue full cash refunds to all customers who cancel their flights during the COVID-19 crisis, and to American citizens who encounter flight cancellations while stranded in countries that implemented travel restrictions.”
They note that customers are out of pocket and need the money, saying:
“Americans need money now to pay for basic necessities, not temporary credits towards future travel.”
Bailout for US airlines
Earlier in March, US airlines received $25 billion in loan assistance as part of the government’s economic stimulus package. Especially in light of this, the Senators feel it is wrong for airlines to hold onto passenger’s money. Senator Elizabeth Warren further expressed views on Twitter (as reported by Reuters), saying:
“The airline industry got $25 billion to keep workers on payroll – but they’re not the only ones hurting for money right now. I want airlines to provide customers cash refunds, not just travel vouchers, for canceled flights.”
Will this make a difference?
Unlike some other countries, there has not been a ban on flights in the US. Many states though are putting in place stay at home orders, and travel to many overseas destinations has stopped or is extremely limited. This has led to significant reductions in flights, and passenger numbers. This is likely to continue, and with it more and more passengers will seek refunds.
Whilst support for passengers from Senators may be helpful, airlines are going to need guidance from the Department of Transportation into what is appropriate. It is a hard balance to strike. Customers are entitled to money back and many are in need of it now, but airlines want to delay expenditure as much as possible. More clarity on the appropriateness of vouchers, their duration of validity, and if they can be cashed in later would help.
Simple Flying reached out to a number of US airlines for comment.
American Airlines explained:
“We know flexibility is important to our customers during this time of uncertainty, and the comprehensive travel waivers we’ve put in place are designed to meet the full range of our customers’ needs.”
And United acknowledged it had received the letter from the Senators, but do not have any formal response yet.
Do you have experience trying to get refunds from US airlines? Do let us know in the comments.