Society, business in general, and specifically the travel industry have consistently taken the proper steps and done the right thing in reaction to and in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. Most, if not all, travel companies have changed cancellation policies, issued incentives to post-pone travel, and begin the discussion of how best to serve customers safely. The exception to this has been getting a refund from airlines for canceled flights. With long hold times and an endless amount of fine print, they haven’t necessarily made it easy to take advantage of these changes, (which is why you need a travel agent) but credit where it’s due, they have tried.
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Even airlines, often the most frustrating section of the travel industry, had to make some changes to their cancellation and re-booking policies. Initially, airlines were waiving the fees for customers wishing to change or cancelling flights and issuing vouchers to be used at a future date. What happened if the customers desired a refund instead of a credit? Until the US government stepped in and decided customers should be able to choose either a travel voucher or a full refund if the flight is canceled by the airline due to Coronavirus. As a side note, the government had to “remind” the airlines about this policy.
The refund vs voucher policy does not extend to flights canceled by the customer. The revised policies still waive fees but the airlines are not obligated to issue a refund, only a credit for a future flight. According to Zach Wichter on ThePointsGuy.com, there is some discussion about a bill that would require airlines to issue cash refunds for any reason during the pandemic. If the bill is introduced and passed into law customers who, for whatever reason, don’t want to fly would be able to get a refund instead of a voucher.
Personally, I have decided to accept vouchers for future travel. I will be traveling as soon as it’s safe to do so, the money is already spent, and I’m in the lucky position of being able to pay personal expenses. Not everyone is in that situation. There are more people than anyone realizes who are temporarily out of work and struggling to make ends meet, not to mention those who just aren’t comfortable traveling any time in the near future. In the past airlines had plenty of legal terms and conditions to protect themselves but this is an unusual circumstance and for the time being airlines should issue refunds to anyone who wants one.
The implications for the airlines could be drastic, however. They operate on thin margins (by the industry’s own doing, by the way — but that’s a different issue!) and issuing refunds could push them into a bankruptcy re-organization, mergers, or just out of business. However part of the bill would allow airlines to use government “bail out” money to cover the refunds as long as that money would not be used to cover payroll and other operating expenses.
Bottom line is the airline industry needed to make some changes and doing the right thing by issuing refunds may force them to look at what the future should look like.
About the Author
Joel is a co-owner of JJ Travel Associates (a Dream Vacations franchise), blogger-in-chief at JoelKnowsTravel.com, lover of all things travel (especially UNESCO World Heritage Sites), wannabe comedian, and the person you should call if you're thinking of planning a vacation.