US Airline Refunds Could Soon Get A Lot Easier For Passengers

Legislators of both chambers of the United States Congress have decided action is necessary after 88,161 flights in the US were canceled in 2022 – the second highest since 2013. The highest was 2020, which was an exceptional year. Alognside the high cancelation rate came over 549,000 flights that were delayed by over 15 minutes, according to the United States Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The legislators have introduced a bill called the “Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act” to require cash refunds for a canceled flight or if a passenger must cancel their flight before 48 hours of the flight.

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Fine print of the legislation

The proposal is to require airlines to offer a cash refund either for cancellations, for ‘significant delays,’ or for a flight, a passenger cancels with at least 48 hours remaining. Airlines can still offer vouchers with no expiration date alongside a clear and conspicuous notice that the cash refund option is available to passengers.

These rights must be shared with passengers at the time of booking and again if the flight is canceled or significantly delayed. The US Secretary of Transportation can also issue a $ 1,000 civil penalty for violation.

The law is intended to be conditionally retroactive to March 1, 2020. However, this is under the condition that the passenger cannot have fully used the voucher (s) offered at the time.

There is also a restriction that US airlines cannot use their COVID-19 relief dollars as provided in the Coronavirus Economic Stabilization Act / CARES Act of 2020 to provide any refunds. Even the retroactive ones.

Furor with US airlines

Some would be right to expect this legislation to be an expression of frustration by legislators against how the US airlines are recovering from COVID-19’s many impacts after billions in financial aid was given. For Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), he explained in a joint statement with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and other legislators introducing the legislation that he had a flight canceled in the last week, and was left feeling irate that only credits were offered after the “bailout” of the CARES Act.


Cancelations and delays have ruined the travel plans of many this year. Photo: Joe Kunzler | Simple Flying

As influential Congressman Jamie Raskin said in the joint statement,

“After receiving a historic pandemic bailout in 2020, the airline industry has repaid a lot of consumers and taxpayers with ruined vacation plans and demeaning customer service standards. … We need to restore efficiency, civility and decency to interstate travel, and the airline industry should strive to provide effective, reliable service to the American people. This legislation is a crucial step in ensuring that airlines hold up their end of the bargain. “

Finally, for Erin E. Witte, Director of Consumer Protection for the Consumer Federation of America, the legislation,

“Presents a straightforward resolution to the time-consuming and costly problems that consumers face when airlines cancel flights. Congress needs to act quickly and decisively to provide consumers with some protections from the airline industry, and this proposed legislation is a solid step in that direction. “

Just because legislation is introduced…

How a bill or legislation becomes law in the US Congress

Graphic: By Mike Wirth and Dr. Suzanne Cooper-Guasco | Wikimedia Commons

As the above infographic shows, making legislation into law is a complicated process in the United States Congress. But with the “Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act” having support from both chambers of Congress – the House of Representatives and the Senate – the odds of the legislation becoming law are higher, as there will be more supportive voices on committees to prioritize passage.

Do you support this act or see any downsides? Let us know with civility in the comments please.

Sources: Senator Whitehouse August 1, 2022 statement; United States’ Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics

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