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U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down

U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down

Old Mar 23, 20, 7:55 pm
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U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down

The Wall Street Journal
March 23rd, 2020
8:41PM Herb Time

U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights Could Virtually Shut Down, Voluntarily or by Government Order

As airlines struggle to keep aircraft flying with minimal passengers, various options are being considered

"....Airlines generally favor government orders rather than voluntary industry initiatives, partly because a mandate would provide airlines with extra ammunition in their ongoing lobbying for federal aid. 'They would definitely prefer the government did it,' according to one industry official familiar with the deliberations...."
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Old Mar 23, 20, 10:10 pm
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Also because that bolsters their position on not giving refunds on non-refundable fares for flights they cancel.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 8:44 am
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Originally Posted by ursine1 View Post
Also because that bolsters their position on not giving refunds on non-refundable fares for flights they cancel.
Force majeure doesn't allow them to not refund your money.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 10:40 am
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Originally Posted by bwallet View Post
Force majeure doesn't allow them to not refund your money.
Yes, it does.

They're doing it right now.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 10:55 am
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Originally Posted by ursine1 View Post
Yes, it does.

They're doing it right now.
Which Force Majeure flight cancellations are being denied refunds? And if you are claiming they are denying refunds on flights which are being cancelled (which are not currently due to Force Majeure), why do they need a Force Majeure reason to deny refunds?

Force Majeure cancellations only removes the obligation for hotel and food vouchers in the event a day of departure cancellation leaves you stuck at an airport that is not at your home or at a connecting airport. It does not remove the obligation for a fare refund if they can't get you to where you are going in a reasonable amount of time.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 12:37 pm
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Originally Posted by ursine1 View Post
Yes, it does.

They're doing it right now.
You stated they are using "Force Majeure" to deny refunds. Do you have a source?

Or are just saying they are denying refunds?
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Old Mar 24, 20, 3:08 pm
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Airlines aren't refunding voluntary forward bookings for periods where no outright ban exists (yet). In fact, there are quite a few threads in FT where airlines are encouraging folks to cancel voluntarily for this very reason.

If you wait until the airline cancels your flight, then you are due a refund. Force majeure does apply to coronavirus, but not in this situation as explained above.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 4:41 pm
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Southwest is currently denying refunds on WGA fares for Southwest-cancelled flights due to schedule changes, airport closures, or a travel ban. Since this would seem to be in defiance of DOT guidelines, the assumption is that they are either considering this a force majeure situation, and/or working within the terms of their (nebulously worded) Contract of Carriage.
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Old Mar 24, 20, 4:44 pm
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Originally Posted by TBD View Post
Airlines aren't refunding voluntary forward bookings for periods where no outright ban exists (yet). In fact, there are quite a few threads in FT where airlines are encouraging folks to cancel voluntarily for this very reason.

If you wait until the airline cancels your flight, then you are due a refund. Force majeure does apply to coronavirus, but not in this situation as explained above.
This is no longer true.
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Old Mar 25, 20, 5:52 am
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Originally Posted by ursine1 View Post
This is no longer true.
I know FT is awash with threads on this, which makes things hard to find ... but could you please provide a source?

The US Dept of Transportation is quite clear that this is a fact:
"If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment. " (DOT website)
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Old Mar 25, 20, 8:44 pm
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Originally Posted by TBD View Post
I know FT is awash with threads on this, which makes things hard to find ... but could you please provide a source?

The US Dept of Transportation is quite clear that this is a fact:
"If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment. " (DOT website)
Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to cite the source.

Here's some background, to the extent that I'm only sharing public knowledge.

The policy was first "announced" in a 3-19-2020 Southwest blog post, "Policy Update & Clarification: Extending Travel Credit and Refunds," as referenced in this FlyerTalk thread: Unprecedented extension of travel funds expiration dates

(emphasis mine)

COVID-19 Mandates and Requirements

If we are forced to cancel a flight because airports are closed or if travel bans are put into place due to the extraordinary environment and response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will work with each Customer to book flights at a later time or issue a travel credit for the value of the ticket. The only compensation we will offer in these instances—for non-refundable Wanna Get Away tickets—are Residual Travel Funds. These cancellations are not eligible for a cash refund. Current examples of where this policy applies are Grand Cayman, Aruba, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica—however, this list is likely to grow.

We hope the extension of the travel funds* mentioned above (through June 30, 2021, which is an exception to our policies for these circumstances) will give our Customers peace of mind that they’ll have plenty of time to use those funds for future travel. We understand that some Customers may be disappointed if they would have preferred a cash refund.
That blog post also included reference that flights cancelled due to schedule changes would allow refunds. But...

(emphasis mine)

Flight Schedule Revisions

As we’ve announced, we plan to revise our flight schedule by reducing available seat miles (ASMs) by at least 20 percent for the time period of April 14, 2020, through June 5, 2020. Customers impacted by these reductions, we will work with each Customer to book alternate flights or issue a travel credit for the value of the travel funds. As of now, we will also offer refunds to the original form(s) of payment upon request if a Customer’s flight is impacted and they do not travel and do not wish to use their credit for future travel, but please keep in mind this is subject to change.

Similar to the previous example, we hope the extension of the travel funds* mentioned above (through June 30, 2021, which is an exception to our policies for these circumstances) will give our Customers peace of mind that they’ll have plenty of time to use those funds for future travel. We hope that will incentivize our Customers to keep the travel funds, rather than requesting a cash refund.
Both of the above sections of the blog post were deleted on 3-20-2020, and the title edited to remove "and Refunds." Here's a link to the current post: Policy Update & Clarification: Extending Travel Credit

On 3-23-2020, I became aware that Southwest was officially no longer giving refunds on WGA fares for "Southwest-cancelled flights due to schedule changes, airport closures, or a travel ban."

As has been pointed out in other threads here, it's important to understand that there is no DOT regulation requiring air carriers to grant refunds on non-refundable fares. The often referenced informational page is based on guidance the DOT has given to carriers, and in general reflects carrier's policies. Ultimately, a carrier's Contract of Carriage is the legally binding document. And, as has been discussed frequently here, the Southwest CoC is written in such a way as to allow them to deny refunds on flights they've cancelled for multiple reasons.

That said, it appears now (3-25-2020) that Southwest may be granting refunds when the customer is persistent and cites the DOT guidance.

Perhaps they've decided they don't want to risk running afoul of the DOT, or perhaps they've just decided the loss of customer goodwill isn't worth the money. I have no official information regarding this latest apparent change. It is worth noting, however, that refunds are still being denied routinely as the initial response to customer inquiries. Which seems neither compliant with DOT guidance or particularly transparent.

Per Gary Kelly, Southwest is in the "fight of our lives'' to protect the company and its operations.
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Old Mar 25, 20, 9:55 pm
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Is GK still getting 90% of his salary?
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Old Mar 26, 20, 6:09 am
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Originally Posted by ursine1 View Post
As has been pointed out in other threads here, it's important to understand that there is no DOT regulation requiring air carriers to grant refunds on non-refundable fares.
...except that the DOT specifically says that airlines must refund nonrefundable fares. So long as the DOT is the one ruling on these complaints, the DOT's position does indeed set the standard ... even if you think it's just a friendly suggestion.

While I understand that airlines are in a challenging situation right now, they simply do not have the authority to override government regulation. They do, regardless of their blog post, owe a cash refund for flights that they cancel. The fact that they're bending their rules to offer cash refunds demonstrates that they know this, too.

Bottom line: Don't accept a voucher is WN cancels your flight. You're right to demand a refund no matter what WN tells you.
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Old Mar 26, 20, 7:47 pm
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Originally Posted by TBD View Post
...except that the DOT specifically says that airlines must refund nonrefundable fares. So long as the DOT is the one ruling on these complaints, the DOT's position does indeed set the standard ... even if you think it's just a friendly suggestion.

While I understand that airlines are in a challenging situation right now, they simply do not have the authority to override government regulation. They do, regardless of their blog post, owe a cash refund for flights that they cancel. The fact that they're bending their rules to offer cash refunds demonstrates that they know this, too.

Bottom line: Don't accept a voucher is WN cancels your flight. You're right to demand a refund no matter what WN tells you.
Again, for the umteenth time, it's not a government regulation.

There's no regulation covering refunds on non-refundable fares when the carrier cancels the flight. If that's wrong, please direct us to the appropriate FAR. (Hint: It doesn't exist.)

Certainly, carriers are playing fast and loose right now with the DOT guidance and even with their own Contracts of Carriage. And it's absolutely worth pointing that out when pressing customer relations for a refund. It's also worth filing a DOT Consumer Complaint. Ultimately, I suspect (hope) the DOT will update their guidance specifically with regards to this scenario.
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Old Mar 26, 20, 8:21 pm
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WN is still bound by their Contract of Carriage which has not been modified since crisis began --

9. Service Interruptions
Refer to Section 8 for conditions applicable to international travel.
a. Failure to Operate as Scheduled
(1) Canceled Flights or Irregular Operations. In the event Carrier cancels or fails to operate any flight according to Carrier’s published schedule, or changes the schedule of any flight, Carrier will, at the request of a Passenger with a confirmed Ticket on such flight, take one of the following actions:
(i) Transport the Passenger at no additional charge on Carrier’s next flight(s) on which space is available to the Passenger’s intended destination, in accordance with Carrier’s established reaccommodation practices; or
(ii) Refund the unused portion of the Passenger’s fare in accordance with Section 4c.
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