US Government: Airlines Must Contact Everyone They Refused A Refund To And Offer One

JetBlue has been one of the worst airline offenders, refusing to give customers their money back for cancelled flights. Like many airlines they decided to just keep the cash, a bailout in the form of an interest-free loan from their customers entirely apart from the big one that’s coming from the federal government.

They cancelled my flight, and moved me to one 10 hours later. I told them this was unacceptable and I wanted a refund and was flat out refused. This was yesterday.

Today the Department of Transportation came forward and said their rules are not optional, even when cancellations are outside of an airline’s control, and they’d pursue enforcement action if needed. An airline can’t keep money from a customer while not providing the agreed-upon service just because they need the money (and regardless of how much they need the money). That’s theft.

So I went back to my own Twitter private message thread with JetBlue and asked for a refund. They promptly confirmed I would receive one.

The Department of Transportation’s enforcement notice to airlines emphasizing that “passengers should be refunded promptly when their scheduled flights are cancelled or significantly delayed. ” The notice specifically says that COVID-19 is not an excuse.

DOT is telling airlines that continuing to deny refunds for cancelled flights and significant schedule changes is “a violation of the carriers’ obligation that could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.”

However the government will not act against airlines that have improperly refused refunds already provided:

  1. “the carrier contacts, in a timely manner, the passengers provided vouchers for flights that the carrier cancelled or significantly delayed to notify those passengers that they have the option of a refund”

  2. “the carrier updates its refund policies and contract of carriage provisions to make clear that it provides refunds to passengers if the carrier cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change”

  3. “the carrier reviews with its personnel, including reservationists, ticket counter agents, refund personnel, and other customer service professionals, the circumstances under which refunds should be made.”

It appears JetBlue did #2 and #3 fairly quickly, at least based on my interaction with them on twitter today.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wonder how Alaska Air will handle this when flights to Hawaii are not officially cancelled, but you are required to be in 14 days of quarantine upon arrival; thus a week vacation should be cancellable for a full refund.

  2. Nice work. Today AA coughed up a couple pretty big refunds to my CC that I’d been chasing for weeks. Coincidence, I’m sure…

  3. A nicely worded Twitter private message from Gary. Not hostile. Not meek. Not TLDR. It got the job done!

  4. @Damon, the quarantine is 14 days or the length of your vacation, whichever is shorter.

    So alaska airlines will fly you there and you’re supposed to stay inside your hotel room for your vacation. No issues there as far as quarantine law is concerned.

  5. Sounds like you’re missing important content in a sentence that changes the context because of omission. Should the sentence “However the government will not act against airlines that have improperly refused refunds already provided:” have an “IF” at the end?

  6. The airlines should also reimburse interest for not providing a prompt refund for cancelled flights or flights with a significant schedule change.

  7. @Ben, it’s still not a vacation then (being held to you hotel room) for which I’d want a full refund but can’t. But since they haven’t officially cancelled I cannot.

  8. WN cancelled flight and did an auto-rebook. Would not refund money for ticket – just funds for future flights. And even though the WN website says that Early Bird will be refunded to the credit card if WN cancels a flight, they refused and just said a “LUV voucher” would come in the mail.

  9. To which airlines does this apply? Does it apply to all tickets marketed to the US or must the flight touch the US?

  10. But I just read a post the other day about how Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren making an issue of this were just showboating and weren’t likely to get anything done about it. Oh well, whoever wrote that article must have let his political leanings get in the way again….

  11. Any idea how this will play out with the foreign airlines still refusing? Like KLM/AF…etc

  12. @Sco Gary clearly emphasized the part about how Sanders and Warren wanted to give refunds to any passenger who canceled their flight for any reason.

    This is clearly different. I think you didn’t read Gary’s article closely enough.

  13. Thanks for the post Gary. Only speaking for myself, ymmv, but if it was Southwest, JetBlue, or Alaska, I would happily accept the voucher. In my view, they all offer to varying degrees a quality product and seem to genuinely care about their passengers. So in these times I would gladly cut them some slack and allow them to cash in some of the goodwill they have generated by not racing to the passenger experience bottom, unlike UA from whom I did request my refund.

  14. Gary, you link to the DOT complaint form on another article. Very helpful. Any idea where I can access the EU261 form? Thank you!

  15. United still refuses to provide a refund. They only offer credit to be used within 12 months from the date of purchase.

  16. @Jake:Before you call back should book flights for every day through the end of the schedule.

    Wait until after they report earnings. There are so few people flying , your revenue loss might force them to restate their earnings.

  17. Yeah United still refusing my refund despite flight being cancelled and sending direct Twitter message requesting refund under DOT regulations. Their response…

    “Hi there, Matt. We are sorry to hear about the cancellation of your flight. We never intend to interrupt your travel plans; however, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, we were not able to operate our flight schedules as planned. Your safety is always our priority and we hope you’ll understand that the COVID-19 pandemic is out of United Airlines’ control.

    We noticed your request for refund under international regulations. Under these regulations, refund is not applicable since the irregularity was due to an extraordinary circumstance that could not be reasonably avoided. We do have several travel waivers in place to assist our customers at this time, which you can find information about at https://fly.united.com/TRhXqv. ^AC”

  18. In order to still have airlines to travel on for business or pleasure, wouldn’t it make more sense to take a travel voucher and help keep the airlines in business?
    If you were going to travel now, chances are you will be traveling sometimes in the future. Let’s work together to help keep as many companies up and running as possible. You already spent the money – so just take the voucher for a later date.

  19. @Elfie. “You already spent the money” True, but this was payment for a flight to visit a person in a nursing home. “So just take the voucher for a later date.” There is no later date. The person died of a COVID-19 infection.” Why keep an airline in business that refuses to refund money for their cancelled flight? If an airline wants free money, I recommend you start a “Gofundme” page for them.

  20. @Elfie – I recall an article from this blog where AA claimed that 87% of its passengers fly only once per year. That’s why. Plus it’s the law and what is right. Are you deciding in these uncertain times to donate $1k to each airline? That’s the equivalent of what you’re encouraging everyone else to do. They’re stealing money from their customers if they refuse to offer refunds for cancelled flights.

  21. I had an AA flight to MEX booked using UR. I was given an AA waiver using Chase’s online cancelation. The flight was not canceled, but Trump closed the border to non-essential flights before my flight. Should I contact AA or UR?

  22. What should you do if even after contacting the airline and informing them of the law they still refuse to issue a refund?

  23. @dave Kiln

    Not much you can do. Remember these clowns for future purchases and. Ever do business with them again? No matter how direct flights they have.

  24. United is refusing a refund on a cancelled flight that was rebooked to 7+ hours earlier. Will never use them again!!

  25. I’ve got tickets to FIJI this week…..all flights to the islands are cancelled. The Fiji airlines (and Chase…who I booked the reservation through) refuse to give me a refund…..my worry is not so much that we won’t someday go back to Fiji….it’s that I’ll go to rebook the flight and the airfare will be crazy expensive—I’m expecting airfares to the Pacific will be astronomical for some time after this is all over…..”I see you have a credit from a previously cancelled flight—Sure you can rebook, the cost is now $4000 per person.” Is this an irrational fear? Should I just calm down, understand that these are unprecedented times and hope that we can rebook at a reasonable cost in the future?….airlines could make this a lot easier by just refunding/reset the relationship with customers….instead, these companies keep the “stick it to the customer” business plan.

  26. I called UA today on a flight that they previously only offered a voucher on citing the updated guidance from DOT. In a few minutes, a refund was processed.

    Maybe it took a few days for the news to trickle down to the reps and maybe you have to specifically cite the guidance, but it’s worth another call to United if you got refused previously.

  27. What do you recommend if tickets to Hawaii I’m Hawaiian Airlines were purchased through Expedia? Our outbound flight was set for May 9. The airline has.cancelled the same flights through May 8 and will likely extend that. I doubt we would rebook a trip to Hawaii this year given the turmoil.

  28. We booked r/t tickets on JetBlue Feb 16 for a 4/16-4/19 ftl to lga. I canceled flight and hotel on March 16th, due to virus outbreak. Marriot returned our prepaid room, JB refuses, instead I have travel credit for up to 24 months. I could sure use that $990 now for rent and bills.

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