Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020

Agents, Customers, Congress Frustrated Over Airline Refund Policies

Tammy Levent, a Palm Harbor, Fla. travel advisor, speaks for many agents—and airline customers, and members of Congress—when she says she is frustrated.

While nearly every major domestic airline is waiving change fees to rebook flights and providing credit for future travel in the wake of the coronavirus global pandemic, that credit is usually only good for one year from the date the original flight was booked. So if a customer booked a flight in November of 2019 to travel to Positano, Italy in June—as Levent did—you have to travel before November of 2020.

And with 10 million Americans having filed for unemployment in the last three weeks, either money is tight or, well, as Levent puts it, “Who goes to Positano in the fall and winter?”

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Levent told TravelPulse.com. “I will keep working on this, but I might have to tell one of my customers he’s losing $2,800 in flights.”

Rarely do Americans travel to Europe in the fall and winter, except perhaps at Christmas time, since many tourist and seasonal businesses close down. Positano, for example, is a gorgeous, romantic seaside town on the Amalfi Coast whose peak times are between March and October.

Levent, who said part of her frustration is that policies seem to change call to call, said that agents want a uniform policy.

“We would all be happy with an extended travel credit, voucher or whatever with penalties waived,” she said. “So if they booked in November or December of 2019, and they were traveling in June of 2020, extend that option not to November 2020 but November 2021. Allow customers to try to book the same time period but in the following year, or one year from when they were supposed to travel and not one year from date of booking.”

Pleas from Levent and the industry are not falling on deaf ears. She did receive a notice from Delta saying it would try to process credits/refunds as soon as possible although it might take up to two billing cycles. And, according to the Huffington Post, carriers are facing mounting pressure to give customers cash refunds for canceled flights after Congress approved a $50 billion bailout package for the airlines.

On Wednesday, nine senators sent letters to the chief executives of 11 major airlines arguing that each company “has a moral responsibility to provide real refunds, not travel vouchers, to consumers, and to support State Department efforts to repatriate any American citizens trying to come home. It would be unacceptable to us for your company to hold onto travelers’ payments for canceled flights instead of refunding them, especially in light of the $25 billion bailout that the airline industry just received from Congress. We urge you to offer cash refunds for flight cancellations so that Americans can better weather this crisis.”

The letters were signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Robert Casey (D-Penn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

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