New Bill Would Require Airlines to Return Billions to Consumers

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Senators Edward J. Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy and Kamala Harris announced they plan to introduce the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act of 2020. This legislation would require major airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer full cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, regardless of whether the airline cancelled an entire flight or the passenger cancelled their individual ticket.

Deciding not to fly is the right choice for public health, the office of Rep. Markey said in a statement, yet, when travelers proactively cancel their tickets, the airline industry only provides vouchers, not cash. It adds that, although airlines are required under federal law to offer cash when they cancel an entire flight, most airlines only offer to rebook passengers or provide a voucher as the default option, forcing customers “to jump hoops to actually get their money back.”

In response to these anti-consumer practices, the Senators previously sent a letter to 11 major domestic airlines, demanding cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic. Their investigation further revealed that the airline industry could be holding onto over $10 billion from American travelers.

Specifically, the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act would:

  • Require major airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer full cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, no matter whether the airline canceled the overall flight or the passenger canceled their individual ticket
  • Permit airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer travel vouchers as an alternative to cash refunds, as long as that voucher is valid indefinitely and the offer includes clear and conspicuous notice of the flyer’s right to a cash refund
  • Allow airlines to pay for cash refunds with any emergency money made available by Congress, except for the CARES Act grants designated for supporting worker payroll expenses and employee benefits
  • Establish that the new right is retroactive to any flight on or after March 1, 2020, so that passengers who previously received a travel voucher, but have not used it, can ask for a cash refund now
  • Mandate that cash refunds be available until 180 days after the end of the nationwide COVID-19 emergency declarations, which will give consumers six extra months of flexibility and peace of mind so they don’t have to travel until they truly feel safe flying again

“Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions, not temporary credits toward future travel,” said Senator Markey in a statement. “In light of this pressing need, and an unprecedented multibillion-dollar bailout, it’s absolutely unconscionable that the airlines won’t give consumers their money back.”

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