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Senators demand airlines refund $10 billion for flights canceled during pandemic

Senators demand airlines refund $10 billion for flights passengers were forced to cancel during the pandemic or abolish expiration dates on credits

  • Democratic senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal have written to 10 airlines
  • They say it is ‘unconscionable’ that airlines are refusing to refund money
  • And they warn passengers may feel pressured into flying before it is safe in order to use expiring credits
  • As much as $10 billion is tied up in what amounts to an interest-free loan to airlines, they say
  • That comes after industry received more than $50 billion in pandemic support

Two senators are demanding airlines refund billions of dollars to passengers forced to cancel flights during the coronavirus pandemic – or at least abolish expiration dates for credits.

Democrats Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal have written to 10 major airlines asking them to protect customers who fear they will lose money if their flight credits expire and may feel pressured into traveling before it is safe.

‘Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions during this emergency,’ they said in a joint statement. ‘It is unconscionable that airlines are largely refusing to return customers’ money even as the industry sits on more than $10 billion in unused travel credits.

‘However, even as we continue to push for these cash refunds, it is imperative that, at a minimum, your company does not subject pandemic-related flight credits to an expiration date.’

Senator Ed Markey

Senators Richard Blumenthal (left) and Ed Markey have written to 10 major airlines demanding they refund billions of dollars to passengers for flights canceled during the coronavirus pandemic or at least abolish expiration dates on credits

The pandemic brought air travel to a sudden halt.

Airlines canceled flights as traveler numbers dropped. Passengers were forced to cancel trips as they were warned against all non-essential travel.

Several tranches of federal support added up to more than $50 billion in taxpayer aid for the industry.

Even so, airlines have been reluctant to refund cash to disappointed passengers and have instead offered credits for future flights. 

In their letters, the senators said airlines had adopted a confusing ‘patchwork’ of different regulations around credits. Single airlines were offering different types of flight credits with different restrictions and expiration dates.

Airline terminals are slowly beginning to refill after months of inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This June 2020 file photo shows a traveler at a near deserted Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago

Airline terminals are slowly beginning to refill after months of inactivity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This June 2020 file photo shows a traveler at a near deserted Terminal 3 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago

They say the money tied up in the credits effectively amounts to an interest-free loan for the industry and gave airlines until May 28 to explain whether they would offer full cash refunds. 

‘In light of the ongoing pandemic and looming expiration dates for flight credits, we fear that countless consumers will be unable to redeem their flight credits or will redeem them at a loss,’ they write.

‘Worse, without removing expiration dates, your company may be encouraging travelers to fly before they feel safe boarding a plane, lest they lose tickets that they have already purchased with hard-earned dollars.’

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