Lawmakers are looking to hold airlines accountable for the extensive delays and cancellations that have been ongoing for the better part of two years. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, travelers have been at the whim of major airlines that, for multiple reasons, continue to delay and cancel flights.
A group of Democrats has introduced a bill — the Cash Refunds for Flight Cancellations Act — that will require airlines to provide actual cash refunds to customers who experience significant delays or cancellations. The bill would also entitle customers who cancel flights at least 48 hours ahead of scheduled departure to receive these refunds as well.
Typically when an airline initiates a cancellation, they work to rebook you on their next available flight, free of charge. However, the new bill would formalize an existing Department of Transportation mandate that says consumers are actually entitled to refunds for airline-initiated cancellations. Airlines often attempt to skirt around refunding customers by offering flight vouchers. In many instances, those vouchers come with terms and conditions that can include blackout dates.
The bill would give airlines 30 days to initiate refunds or vouchers if the customer chooses, but those vouchers would have no blackout dates and could be redeemed immediately.
In a statement following the introduction of the bill, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said that airlines cannot continue to take advantage of consumers.
"Enough is enough: Travelers are sick of wasting their valuable time fighting the airlines to receive their legally-required cash refunds," he said. "And they are tired of making flight reservations months in advance, only to face a health scare that forces them to choose between canceling a nonrefundable flight or traveling and risking the health of their fellow passengers."
Delays and cancellations at airports don't seem to be getting any better. According to flight tracking site FlightAware over the July 4th holiday weekend alone, more than 17,000 flights were delayed and more than 1,400 were canceled. Today, things aren't much better. More than 600 flights were canceled and more than 4,500 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. were delayed on Thursday.
Rep. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn. 3rd District) said the bill will help restore confidence in the American airline industry.
"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."
Sen. Markey, who introduced the bill on Monday, told Yahoo News he hopes his Republican colleagues will get on board as the delays and cancellations are not limited to one specific political party.
"We have to protect passengers on planes," he said. "I don't think consumer protection should be a partisan issue."