“Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing and prescriptions during this emergency,” Markey, from Massachusetts and Blumenthal from Connecticut, wrote in a letter Monday.
In their letter to the executives of the companies, the two American lawmakers asked eight questions related to travelers’ refunds of their money and credit vouchers for the purchase of alternative tickets, demanding a response to them before May 28.
Customer complaints about outstanding amounts have skyrocketed, and have become one of the most prominent air travel issues during the pandemic, according to the US Department of Transportation.Ministry data showed that passengers have filed more than 107,000 official complaints against airlines since March 2020, of which 95,000, or 89 percent, are related to returning money.
Airlines said they returned travelers large sums of cash, while reducing flight schedules or when customers decided not to travel, but consumer advocates have documented cases in which some customers have come under pressure to accept future travel credits instead of cash.
In general, when an airline cancels one of its flights, every passenger has the right to get his money back, but when the customer cancels his ticket, he may not be entitled to cash, and he is forced to accept a cash balance to be used to buy another ticket.
But the credits usually come with expiration dates, and several airlines, such as American Airlines and United Airlines, have extended the expiration dates of some credits until 2022, while others have refrained from extending them.
Over the past year, the US Congress has provided more than $ 50 billion in taxpayer money to airlines to finance payroll expenses, and some companies have taken out government loans to cover other costs.
Billions of credits
There is no specific amount for the total value of canceled tickets or accrued travel credits, which have recently expired, while Consumer Reports estimates the figure to be between 12 and 15 billion dollars, but Senators Markey and Blumenthal estimated the number, in their letter, at about 10 billion dollars.America’s Airlines, which represents 7 out of 10 companies the senators contacted, said its members gave customers much more money in 2020 than the year before the pandemic.
In their letter, Senators Markey and Blumenthal called on airlines to delete any expiration dates from travel credits “as a minimum.” Effectively to lend it to the aviation industry without interest. ”
The letter also stated that “without removing expiration dates, companies may encourage travelers to travel before they feel safe on board, lest they lose tickets they purchased with hard-earned money.”