Photo: VICTOR FRAILE/Shutterstock

New Bill Requires Airlines to Refund Your Money Even if You Cancel Your Flight

by Matthew Meltzer May 15, 2020

It’s hard to pay your rent with a flight voucher.

This, or some version of it, has been the refrain many people have repeated to airlines after their flights are canceled, only to be offered a voucher for a future trip. And despite a stern warning from the federal government in April, and a sizable financial bailout, airlines are still refusing to give refunds when they cancel flights.

The problem is so widespread that the Department of Transportation has gotten over 25,000 complaints over the last two months. And now, Congress is stepping in.

This week, a group of Democratic senators proposed a bill requiring airlines to give full cash refunds on all canceled tickets, regardless of who did the canceling. This differs greatly from the current regulation, which only requires cash compensation if airlines cancel the flights. If this bill passes, anyone feeling a little skittish about flying from New York to LA with a mask on their face can get their money back like they were returning an “unworn” dress to Nordstrom.

The bill, called the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act of 2020, is sponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). It would be retroactive to March 1 and extend 180 days after the end of nationwide COVID-19 emergency declarations.

“Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions, not temporary credits toward future travel,” Senator Markey said on his website. “In light of this pressing need, and an unprecedented multi-billion dollar bailout, it’s absolutely unconscionable that the airlines won’t give consumers their money back. Airlines already have a moral responsibility to give cash refunds for all canceled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill would also apply to third-party ticket sellers, such as online travel agencies. And it would still allow airlines to offer travel vouchers, so long as those vouchers had clear and conspicuous language informing consumers they are still entitled to cash.

While this bill would only apply to airlines based in the United States, Dutch carrier KLM got ahead of regulators this week shifting its voucher policy to offer cash refunds as well. Previously, it had only been offering vouchers, which could be converted to cash after a year if they went unused.

Of course, anyone who watched Schoolhouse Rock knows it’s a long way from bill to law. And given that the bill was sponsored by senators exclusively from one party, there’s an ever-so-slight chance it may fall into partisan argument and never make it to the Senate floor. Still, if you need cash for a canceled flight, remember the law still dictates airlines give you a refund if they cancel the flight, so don’t give up even if this bill never passes. And if it does, hold onto that travel voucher. It may end up being worth more than the paper it’s printed on.

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