Democratic Senators Introduce Bill Requiring Airlines to Refund Canceled Travel

The legislation calls for 'full cash' reimbursements

Airlines have seen record cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Ryan Barwick

Democratic senators have introduced legislation today that will require major airlines to offer “full cash” refunds for all tickets canceled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

While it’s unclear how far the partisan bill will get, the legislation was spearheaded by Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and former presidential candidate Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

“Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing and prescriptions, not temporary credits toward future travel,” said Markey in a statement. “In light of this pressing need and an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar bailout, it’s absolutely unconscionable that the airlines won’t give consumers their money back. Airlines already have a moral responsibility to give cash refunds for all canceled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Called the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act of 2020, the refund will be mandatory regardless of whether the airline canceled the flight or, more importantly, if a passenger canceled their individual ticket. The act would allow airlines to offer a travel voucher, so long as the voucher is valid indefinitely.

Yesterday, the Department of Transportation announced that it had received more than 25,000 air travel service complaints in March and April when it typically receives over 1,500 a month.

In the early stages of the pandemic, airlines received heavy backlash after making refunds difficult as travel restrictions globally went into place. Airlines have since relaxed their own refund policies, but not completely. United Airlines adjusted its policy to provide refunds as long as a canceled flight wasn’t rebooked within six hours.

Making the optics worse, the airline industry received almost $50 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, although that cash will go toward keeping employees on the payroll until Sept. 30.

“Working families everywhere are being crushed under the weight of this pandemic, and they need cash returned to them now to help feed their loved ones, put a roof over their heads and pay for their healthcare needs,” said Warren in the statement.


@RyanBarwick ryan.barwick@adweek.com Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.