Recently, the Coronavirus has spread throughout the world, and one of the effects of its outbreak has befallen an increasing number of Americans who are being denied their airfare refunds, observed the Department of Transportation.
“The Department has received a high volume of complaints on air travel matters related to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” a DOT spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email. “Many of these complaints concern lack of refunds, assessment of change fees, and inability to reach an airline representative.”
Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, DOT had made it compulsory for every airline to refund the ticket holder with cash for the airfare if the flight is canceled by the airline itself. If a traveler cancels the ticket, the airline is not liable for a refund.
Nevertheless, as people were asked to stay at home and all non-essential travel was banned, airlines stopped following this rule by DOT, as per the complaints received by the agency, tweets from customers, and industry insiders.
DOT enforced its regulation by issuing a notice on Friday. The notice said that even during this pandemic, American and foreign airlines must give customers a cash refund if a flight to, within, or from the United States is canceled or has major changes in schedule.
People who are still struggling for a refund, industry experts gave us their advice:
Call the airlines
Customers who were denied their refund earlier may have a different result when calling back the airlines after DOT’s notice.
“Everybody should be able to get their cash refunds,” says Charles Leocha, the president and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. “They paid for something. They’re not getting it. It’s basic American law.”
Travelers who were provided with flight credits for cancellation and would like a refund with cash instead, airlines are supposed to honor that request as well.
“In that [DOT] memo, they said at the end that the airlines should now contact everyone whose arm they twisted into taking credit and inform them that they have their choice,” Leocha says. “They can now get cash back, or they can leave the credit in place.”
Call the airline again
“First, politely say, ‘Thank you, appreciate your time.’ Hang up. Call again,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights. “The reason why is that airline agents have a lot of discretion about which refunds they process. So oftentimes, it’s not as though there’s a blanket policy, and you’ll never get one agent to treat you differently than another.”
According to Keyes, if a customer fails to get a refund from one agent, they can try thousands of other agents and change their minds. “I can’t tell you the number of times, and I’ve been told no on the first call, no on the second call, then yes on the third call,” he says.
Make sure you are polite when calling the airlines. This is a stressful time for everyone, and being courteous will only help you in your accord.
“I would always be very nice because if you’re a jerk, they put a note in your record,” Leocha says.
Contact your credit card company
Keyes says that credit card companies are your last resort. This is the reason why credit card companies offer card protection services.
“Every credit card and the bank has a process where you can dispute a charge if you’ve paid for something and you didn’t receive that service,” Keyes says. “So if you paid for a flight and the airline canceled the flight, they are not allowed to hold your money hostage.”
However, according to Keyes, this process can be more of a bureaucracy hassle than going to the airlines for a refund.
File a complaint with the DOT
Report your issues directly with the DOT through their website.
“The Department maintains an aviation consumer protection website that provides useful information about passenger rights, including issues related to flight delays, cancellations, and refunds,” the DOT spokesperson said. “The website also has an online complaint form so that air travelers can quickly and easily file a complaint with the Department.”
Leocha and Keyes both recommend filing a complaint with the DOT.
“The fact that the Department of Transportation put out the directive they did on Friday, I think, is directly attributable to the hundreds or thousands of complaints that people were filing because the airlines were behaving so poorly,” Keyes says.