The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published guidance to help protect your health if you travel by plane during the global pandemic. But how do you protect your finances if your flight gets canceled due to this public health emergency? The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) clarifies which situations qualify passengers for a full refund and which ones don't.
Know Your Rights
Understanding your rights as an air traveler isn't easy, especially when flights are changed or canceled daily. In many cases, it's outright confusing. Will you receive a full refund? Is a travel voucher your only option? Or, do you lose the money you paid on the original ticket?
Thanks to DOT's April 3 Enforcement Notice, travelers experiencing significantly delayed* or canceled flights can rest easy. Ticketed passengers do not have to accept bonus air miles, discounts, or travel vouchers instead of a refund. The notice reminded airlines that despite COVID-19's impact on air travel, their "...obligation to refund passengers for canceled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged."
Remember that you are only entitled to a refund if the airline itself cancels or significantly delays your flight. If you cancel, change your trip, or choose not to travel, airlines do not have to process refunds or provide credit toward another flight.
How to Get a Refund for a Canceled Flight
While you might be eligible for a refund, that doesn't mean it will be processed automatically. Some airlines may attempt to satisfy you with alternatives to a full refund, such as flight credits or promises of future discounts. If you prefer to receive an actual refund, be sure to:
- Contact the airline as soon as possible. If you're part of the airline’s frequent flyer program, reach them using the email or telephone number reserved for members.
- Refer to DOT's April 3 Enforcement Notice if you receive pushback from the airline's customer service regarding the refund request. If the airline fails to process a legitimate claim, they may be subject to adverse action by the DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office. Passengers are encouraged to follow the DOT Consumer Complaint Process, if needed.
- Keep records of who you spoke to and when since you may need to refer to this information if you don't receive your refund in a timely manner. Expect a refund within seven business days if you originally paid by credit card or 20 business days if you paid by cash or check.
*A "significant delay" is open to interpretation. The DOT will review refund requests that fall into this category on a case-by-case basis.
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