Washington (August 1, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), along with Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), and Jamie Raskin (MD-08), today introduced the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act, which would provide consumers an enforceable right to a full cash refund for flight and ticket cancellations. The bill codifies the Department of Transportation rule requiring major airlines to offer consumers a cash refund if the airline cancels or significantly delays a flight, and provides consumers a new right to a cash refund if they cancel their ticket up until 48 hours of the flight’s scheduled departure.
The lawmakers are introducing the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act amid months of nightmarish air travel issues and the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past few months, flight cancellations and delays have skyrocketed, far exceeding the number before the pandemic and leading to an avalanche of consumer complaints. While federal law requires airlines to provide cash refunds when they cancel a flight, most airlines only offer to rebook passengers or provide a voucher as the default option instead, forcing customers to jump through hoops to claim their rightful refund. At the same time, with the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, consumer travel plans continue to be unpredictable. In this age of increased travel uncertainty, passengers should not be forced to choose between their money and their health. The Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act corrects this problem by giving consumers an enforceable right to a cash refund for flights cancelled by the airline or tickets cancelled by the passenger.
“Enough is enough: Travelers are sick of wasting their valuable time fighting the airlines to receive their legally-required cash refunds,” said Senator Markey. “And they are tired of making flight reservations months in advance, only to face a health scare that forces them to choose between cancelling a nonrefundable flight, or traveling and risking the health of their fellow passengers. Just as hotels often allow consumers to cancel their reservation and receive a full refund, the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act would extend a similar requirement for air travel. These airlines must get their heads out of the clouds and deliver the effective and accountable service that travelers deserve.”
“Flight cancellations are happening all too frequently,” said Rep. Cohen. “My flight was canceled just last week. The flying public does not expect or want to get credits when the airlines are the cause of the cancellation, especially when they already benefited from a multibillion-dollar bailout from American taxpayers. Our bill remedies this situation and restores some needed consumer protections for air travelers.”
“This measure will put money back into the pockets of consumers suffering from airline travel chaos,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Faced with record delays and cancellations, travelers deserve their money back in cash—not airline vouchers—when their plans are unexpectedly upended. By requiring full cash refunds, our legislation is an important first-step towards airline accountability and restoring reliability and fairness to Americans’ air travel experiences.”
“This bill is a common-sense step to lighten the burden on air passengers who have faced particularly stressful travel conditions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Whitehouse. “It’s bad enough to miss out on vacation time when your flight gets cancelled or an emergency pops up. You shouldn’t also have to fight tooth and nail with an airline for your legally required cash refund.”
“It’s time to hold the airlines accountable, because travelers shouldn’t pay the price for flight delays and cancellations. Customers should be able to receive cash refunds instead of company credit or miles they may not be able to use, and this bill is about ensuring they get what they are owed without spending hours in line or on the phone,” said Congressman García. “ As travelers face increasing uncertainty at the airport, this bill will add much needed accountability for airlines and peace of mind for customers.”
“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,” said Rep. Raskin. “I’m thankful to my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for joining me to introduce this much-needed legislation to guarantee that consumers can receive a cash refund for flight cancellations or delays. Our bill also provides new flexibilities to travelers by guaranteeing them a cash refund for any flights they choose to cancel, within two days of departure. 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.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.
In 2020, Senator Markey and Representative Cohen introduced the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act, legislation which required major airlines to offer full cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill introduced today would expand that right beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act would:
- Require a covered airline or ticket agent to offer a full cash refund within 30 days if the airline cancels or significantly delays a flight, or if a passenger cancels their ticket for any flight up until 48 hours of the scheduled departure time.
- Permit a covered carrier or ticket agent to offer travel vouchers as an alternative to cash refunds, as long as that offer includes a clear and conspicuous notice of the flyer’s right to a cash refund and the voucher is valid and redeemable indefinitely.
- Require a covered carrier or ticket agent to disclose to the passenger, prior to purchasing a ticket, that they can cancel their flight and receive a full cash refund.
- Require a covered carrier or ticket agent to disclose to the passenger whose flight was cancelled or significantly delayed that they have a right to receive a full cash refund.
- Authorize the Secretary of Transportation to impose a $1,000 civil penalty on an airline for failing to provide a full cash refund to a passenger within 30 days.
The following House members also co-sponsored the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act: André Carson (IN-07), Bobby Rush (IL-01), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (GA-04), J. Luis Correa (CA-46), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Katie Porter (CA-45), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Doyle (PA-18), Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), Tim Ryan (OH-13).
The Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act is endorsed by the American Economic Liberties Project, the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League.
“For more than two years now, the US airline industry has been sitting on more than $10 billion in unpaid flight refunds to consumers who were unable to fly during Covid-19,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation at the American Economic Liberties Project. “We applaud Sen. Markey and Rep. Cohen for fighting for the millions of air travelers who have been inconvenienced while their hard-earned money earns interest for the airlines. The Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act will ensure that an industry that has failed to respond to the needs of their customers while generating record numbers of consumer complaints with the DOT will be forced to provide refunds—and in cash, not in vouchers that are likely to expire. This has become even more critical in 2022, as industry meltdowns have led to operational chaos with tens of thousands of lengthy flight delays and cancellations.”
“CFA supports Senator Markey’s dedication to strengthening consumer protections in the air travel marketplace,” said Erin E. Witte, Director of Consumer Protection for the Consumer Federation of America. “His bill 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.”
“This summer’s air travel meltdown has left far too many consumers stranded and frustrated,” said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud at the National Consumers League. “This bill gives power back to the flying public, allowing them to obtain cash refunds when carriers fail to deliver the service they promised or when plans change and vacations have to be delayed or canceled.”