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Congress Calls Upon Airlines to Issue Cash Refunds to Passengers for COVID-caused Cancellations

The effort is one of many over the past year to get airlines to play fair in the wake of 2020’s pandemic chaos

A band of concerned U.S. lawmakers are using the Fourth of July holiday as an appropriate time to send a message to airlines: refund passengers in cash for their COVID-related cancellations last year or eliminate sunsets on flight credits.

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Representative Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04) sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) urging the agency to protect air travelers from an unfair business practice that has blatantly pervaded airline customer service interactions during the coronavirus pandemic – the denial of cash refunds for canceled flights and the issuance of flight credits that will soon expire. This letter follows a similar letter sent to all of the major domestic airlines in May of this year, requesting that airlines voluntarily work with lawmakers to make pandemic-related travel credits valid indefinitely by default. Regrettably, so far the message has fallen on deaf ears and made it clear that strong action by the DOT is necessary.

During the ongoing pandemic, many Americans have had to proactively cancel their flights at the urging of health officials – only to find themselves ineligible for refunds that would have been available had they waited for airlines to cancel their flights for them. In the place of refunds, airlines provided passengers with temporary travel credits that have already expired or will expire before many Americans feel safe traveling again.

Additionally, many airlines have imposed conditions on travel credits that consumers have struggled to navigate, leaving many Americans unable to redeem their travel credits or only able to redeem them at a loss, even as the industry sits on more than $10 billion in unused travel credits.

“The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for air travelers, and consumers deserve cash refunds for tickets canceled during the pandemic,” noted lawmakers in their letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “At a minimum, it is imperative that all flight credits issued during the pandemic are made valid indefinitely by default and frequent flier miles do not expire as a result of travelers having chosen not to fly during the pandemic. We urge you to act swiftly to address these concerns, and we stand ready to work with you to protect air travelers. There should be no expiration date for consumer protection.”

During the prior Congress, Senators Markey and Blumenthal led their colleagues in a demand that airlines offer cash refunds instead of temporary flight credits. The lawmakers also filed legislation that would require the return of travelers’ money