Yahoo! News: Airline refunds could get a lot easier with new bill

August 1, 2022 Media

Since the start of this year, 88,161 flights have been canceled by major American airlines, far more than any recent year except 2020, when the coronavirus ended most recreational and business travel. Fliers eager to see family, friends and colleagues for the first time in two years have found themselves stranded at airports, as pilot shortages, new pandemic waves and extreme weather led to record cancellations.

And although airlines have tried to accommodate the legions of exasperated people with rebookings and meal vouchers, they have frequently avoided offering full refunds, despite a federal Department of Transportation rule requiring them to do so. The result, a 2021 investigation by the Wall Street Journal found, was that the nation’s four largest airlines “had $10 billion in unused travel credits on their books at the end of 2020” — all money that could have been returned to consumers.

But a new measure being introduced Monday by Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, along with other Democrats in both chambers of Congress, would mandate that airlines forthrightly offer travelers cash refunds as opposed to other forms of compensation like vouchers.

“The airlines often push vouchers even in cases where passengers are entitled to cash refunds. Consumers must be made aware by the airlines that they have a cash option,” says William McGee, an aviation expert at the American Economic Liberties Project.