A group of nine U.S. Senators from the Democratic Party have signed a letter urging airlines to promptly refund tickets that consumers cancelled due to COVID-19. While I’m sympathetic to such pleas, I think that ship has passed…
To be clear, we are not talking exclusively about ticket refunds for flights airlines have cancelled. Refunds are mandated under both U.S. and European Union law for such instances. Instead, we are talking about instances in which consumers opt to cancel their tickets.
Surely, we can think of many reasons why voluntary cancellations may occur. Perhaps the flight to New York is still running, but there is no way to travel when government self-quarantine orders or company travel bans preclude travel. Another might be genuine risk. Should an older traveler with pre-existing conditions step on an aircraft to visit his daughter across the country when he is in a high-risk group for complications and death from COVID-19? I’d say the answer is a definite NO, no matter whether his flight is actually cancelled.
Nine Democratic U.S. Senators including presidential contenders Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar have signed onto the letter. The letter justifies this request on the basis of the bailout just received.
“In light of this pressing need and the unprecedented bailout — to the tune of $25 billion — that the airline industry just received from Congress, we believe your company has a moral responsibility to provide real refunds, not travel vouchers, to consumers.”
The letter concludes with six questions and a “respectful” deadline of April 7, 2020 to respond:
- Please estimate the total value of all travel vouchers and credits you have issued during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Please estimate the total number of flights that your airline cancelled during the COVID- 19 crisis, including flights cancelled due to travel restrictions implemented by countries globally.
- Will your airline commit to providing full cash refunds to travelers who cancel their flights during the coronavirus outbreak, including refunds in lieu of travel credits to those who have already received but not used those credits during this pandemic? If not, why not?
- Will your airline commit to providing full cash refunds to any travelers who experienced flight cancellations due to COVID-19 travel restrictions implemented globally?
- If you will not issue real cash refunds, will your airline commit to making any travel credits valid indefinitely? If not, why not?
- Will your airline commit to working with the State Department to expedite commercial flights – at an affordable price – for all Americans who remain stranded abroad?
Refunds for everyone who wants one would be nice. But it would also literally destroy airlines and goes well beyond the current scope of law. While the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides direct aid to airlines, something all of these Senators voted for, it stops short of holding airlines ransom to this extent.
> Read More: The Existential Airline Dilemma – Refund Or Survive
That’s the uncomfortable reality of our COVID-19 world; airlines cannot squeeze money out of rocks and don’t have the cashflow to issue refunds on such a widespread basis. The infusion of billions of dollars coming from U.S. taxpayers will support payroll expenses, not refunds. If the point is to stabilize airlines so workers are not hurt, this is not the way to produce that stability. Better that individual travelers use travel insurance, often included as a credit card benefit, for flights they voluntarily cancel.
Although I am sympathetic to the plight of many travelers who now hold credit they cannot they use, I’d love to see this energy directed at airlines that are actually violating the law by dragging their feet on refunds for flights that are cancelled. I think that is a more constructive path forward than asking airlines to refund non-refundable tickets for people who choose to voluntarily cancel, even if for a very good reason.
(H/T: View from the Wing // image: CNN, Fair Use Exception)