Push grows for airlines to give full refunds for all cancellations related to COVID-19

WASHINGTON — There is a growing push from consumer advocacy groups and lawmakers for airlines to give full refunds for all cancellations related to COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said airlines are required to give full refunds if airlines cancel or significantly change flights, but it is not required if a customer cancels a flight.

The U.S. Transportation Secretary is now urging airlines to be flexible with their policies because of the impact of the pandemic.

"We are asking airlines to do everything they can to be accommodating and understanding of passenger plight,” Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The DOT said it received more than 25,000 air travel complaints in March and April, a huge jump from the typical 1,500 complaints about it per month.


Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) sent letters to the airlines urging them to offer full cash refunds to all customers who have made cancellations because of COVID-19.

On Wednesday Markey said Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air have agreed to the change, and he is pushing for other airlines to do the same.

“If Spirit and Allegiant can refund this money in cash to consumers, then the airlines which are much larger can do so as well,” Markey said. "If they are not willing to do so then I am going to move forward with legislation that mandates that they have to give that money back and make it contingent upon them for receiving any additional money from the federal government regarding bailouts.”

Consumer advocacy groups like the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and Consumer Reports are pushing for the full cash refunds.

COVID-19 has affected travelers around the world.

"My husband and I had been planning a once in a lifetime trip to Italy,” Jennifer Stansfield said during a joint press conference with PIRG, Consumer Reports and Sen. Markey.

Stansfield said they canceled the trip because of concerns about COVID-19.

She said she was offered a voucher, but not a refund for the $2,000 she spent on the flights.

"Why would I want a voucher when studies show we are going to be under some sort of social distancing until 2022?” Stansfield said. “We understand that the airline industry is going through an unprecedented economic hardship but so are we and we do not have the benefit of a multibillion dollar taxpayer bailout.”