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Airlines Extend Waiver Policies, as Flyers Demand Refunds

Airlines Extend Waiver Policies, as Flyers Demand Refunds
Joe Cortez

With over 17,000 complaints and counting filed against airlines over their cancellation policies, more airlines are extending their travel waivers in the hopes flyers will accept credits toward future flights. However, more investigations show that the airlines are making it extremely difficult for flyers to get refunds if their flights are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started grounding aircraft in March 2020, not only have fewer flyers taken to the skies, but more are demanding a refund. Even if they are due, multiple investigations suggest getting one’s money back may be more difficult than getting credit towards future flights.

Airlines Extend Waiver Policies, Hopeful to Keep Passengers Happy

As the pandemic continues, airlines are still encouraging new bookings, while offering new waiver policies to ensure flyers can change their minds if they are worried about the risk of the novel Coronavirus. This week, American Airlines announced an extended travel waiver through Dec. 31, 2020, for all tickets purchased before Sept. 30, 2020. Both cash and award travel are included, and customers can change their origin and destination cities on new bookings.

Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines have all announced similar policies. Both Delta and United allow travelers to change flights booked through the end of the year without paying any penalties, while Southwest is allowing flyers to convert their non-refundable airfare into Rapid Rewards points.

In all situations, the travel waivers do not allow scot-free travel. Flyers have a limited time to use the credited funds, and are responsible for paying any airfare differences between the new flight price and their credit value.

Passengers Say Airlines Owe Billions in Refunds

Although the airlines are offering flexibility to would-be flyers, passengers say they would rather have their money back – but aren’t getting it. In the latest available U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report, over 17,000 flyers submitted complaints to the agency over refund policies.

A column by The Wall Street Journal suggests passengers were growing so frustrated with airline policies that they were giving up on pursuing those refunds – even when they are owed under federal law. But Americans are not the only ones frustrated by the process of getting money back from air carriers. In an investigation by German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, one family says they have been refused refunds by both Swiss Air Lines and the online travel agency Opodo, with each pointing to the other to resolve the situation. According to the broadcaster, online travel agency Opodo said airlines wouldn’t allow refunds, while Swiss told the family that their contract was with the agency, not the airline.

Is it Possible to Get an Airfare Refund?

Unfortunately, there is no direct path for flyers holding the bills from a flight cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic to get a refund. While most airlines provide a refund request portal on their website, it is only a request and not a guarantee.

According to the U.S. DOT, passengers are entitled to a refund if an airline cancelled a flight and the traveler chooses not to travel. For those holding non-refundable tickets, flyers can still get a refund if the airline makes a promise to refund a ticket, cancels a flight, or “makes a significant schedule change.”

But the problem is that the DOT never defined a “significant delay.” The agency notes that final decisions on refunds depend on many factors, including the “length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances.” Each situation is decided on a case-by-case basis, which can take months to decide.

Those who are dissatisfied with the airline decision can file a consumer complaint with the U.S. DOT. However, with over 17,000 complaints filed against airlines over refund policies in April 2020 alone, your complaint may be significantly backlogged. Before booking any flight, it’s recommended flyers check the refund and waiver terms – as those will ultimately determine how successful your refund claim may be.

View Comments (12)


  1. OZFLYER86

    August 13, 2020 at 1:17 am

    no airline should give any refunds ever. We want them to survive. If they refund everyone, they’ll run out of money before they could.

  2. woolfson

    August 13, 2020 at 8:09 am

    THis article is rife with bad information, especially “you are entitled to get a refund if the airline promises a refund”. No, that’s incorrect. DOT250 does not say “if an airline promises to give you a refund” in any of the underlying text, period. This is clearly an article written by a writer-for-hire who did not, in fact, do any research. And yes, there are plenty of ways to get refunds. Both state and federal consumer laws protect individuals – including the ability to go to Small Claims – or any court – and get your refund. You are not preempted because the airline “didn’t make a promise”.

  3. snidely

    August 13, 2020 at 9:41 am

    Jet Blue is making the same offer – for now just til 10/15. One reason I’m taking first flite since 3/2 on them is they have been more committed all along to AVOID the spread of #19. Some airlines just recently even required masks. They still don’t sell middle seats.

  4. jjmoore

    August 13, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Airlines have been allowing pax to convert flight credit into electronic travel certificates, which makes them transferrable to other people. I would say this is about the most generous policy we could have hoped for given the circumstances.

    No reasonable person would expect the airline to issue a refund on a non-refundable ticket unless the flight is cancelled or the schedule change inconvenience results in a trip-in-vain.

    Overall.. very happy with the accommodation I have received already for my cancelled / exchanged tickets.

  5. tkelvin69

    August 13, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Of course airlines should give refunds in situations where they haven’t provided the service, anything less is idiotic logic. All the U.S. carriers have received bailout money and will get more in the future to prevent collapse (remember the big banks who screwed over the customers?).

  6. strickerj

    August 13, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Air Canada is refusing to refund me even though they canceled the flights (in fact suspending service to my city entirely, even as Delta continued operating the same route). Their own terms and conditions at the time my tickets purchased said a refund would be provided for a canceled flight if the passenger can’t be rebooked regardless of the reason. They have since updated the Tariff to refund only for cancellations “within their control” and are attempting to retroactively apply those new terms to my ticket even though the same Tariff says for travel between the U.S. and Canada, the terms at the time of purchase apply. Nevermind that they haven’t actually proven the flight was canceled due to “government regulations” since Delta reduced service on the same route but didn’t suspend it entirely. I’m really disappointed they’re fighting me when they’re clearly wrong per both the law and their own contract of carriage – I guarantee I’d get no consideration if I fell on hard times and wanted to break the contract, so why should they be allowed to do that?

    I agree the airlines are being generous in allowing passengers to cancel without penalty (but for a credit rather than a refund), but I expect a refund if the airline cancels, regardless of their financial situation.

  7. wallyi

    August 13, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    On the other hand, ANA here in Japan encouraged me to take a refund when my international flight was cancelled. I rescheduled instead but finally took the money after that flight, too, was cancelled. Immediate refund even though ANA is struggling financially as well as U.S. airlines.

  8. earlgrey1492

    August 13, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    I pre-emptively cancelled my flight LAX-OAK two days before California shut down and raced back to the E. Coast, since events around Covid were developing very fast and we would have gotten stuck in CA had we not come back when we did. The fact that airlines were flying all over in late March did not (and still does not) make it safe to fly.
    SWA denied me a refund for my admittedly non-refundable ticket. I argued we were in an extreme circumstance. As a result I will never fly them again (tbh hope they go bankrupt). They gave me credit for future travel–which I won’t use and can’t transfer.
    It’s less about the least minimum that airlines are supposed to do, legally speaking, and more about what is good policy for the airline. I would not want to fly an airline that treats customers this way. Those who had actual cancelled flights and no refunds are probably even angrier than I am.

  9. bigislanddave

    August 14, 2020 at 5:18 am

    JAL gave me a refund. very simple phone call. United was a bitch. cancelled flights and still made it difficult. both AA and UAL cancel flights with less than a weeks notice and then try to keep the money. REALLY annoying. Delta is so so. cannot reach them on the phone most of the time .

  10. mvoight

    August 14, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    “SWA denied me a refund for my admittedly non-refundable ticket. I argued we were in an extreme circumstance. As a result I will never fly them again (tbh hope they go bankrupt). They gave me credit for future travel–which I won’t use and can’t transfer.”

    But, this would have been the same on any US carrier, so I don’t know why this would cause you to stop flying one of them, unless it would cause you to not fly any of them.

  11. santina1917

    August 16, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    When tickets are issued via a travel agency, the agency is responsible to process the refund. Unfortunately travel agencies are overwhelmed & backlogged with Covid-19 refund requests, so they tend to affix blame on the airline.

    FYI, when a scheduled flight is cancelled due to Covid, travel agencies can refund via their internal GDS (Global Distribution System) and airline authorization is not needed. They only need authorization when the flt is still operating and the airline is offering refund waivers based on travel date. But often, the agency will refuse the refund an offer future credit instead.

    Word to the wise during the pandemic….it is best to purchase tkts directly from the airline as most airlines will provide refunds for cancelled flights.

  12. Firstboss

    August 28, 2020 at 3:36 am

    I am sincerely worried about the honest employees of all the airlines who are falling the victims of the global emotional mismanagement by the governments worldwide.
    Tens of thousands of flight attendants, baggage handlers, mechanics, cleaning personnel will be losing their jobs globally once the bailout restrictions expire (October 1 for the US)

    Let’s not feel too sorry for the privileged part of the society who are saving money working from home all this time and who can afford flying this year (myself included)

    Claim the vouchers, book another entertaining trip and stop feeling sorry for yourself.
    Personally I am making a point of not applying for cash refunds.

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