Underwood Introduces Legislation to Help Americans Receive Refunds For Canceled Flights During Coronavirus Pandemic

May 27, 2020
Press Release
The Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act requires airlines to offer full cash refunds for canceled tickets

WASHINGTON— Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced new legislation to help Americans receive cash refunds for canceled flights during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act would require major airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer full cash refunds for all canceled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether the airline canceled an entire flight or if the passenger canceled their individual ticket because of the public health emergency. A companion measure was introduced in the Senate by Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and Kamala Harris (D-California) on May 13. 

“During this pandemic, I have heard from seniors unable to receive refunds for trips they can no longer take due to health concerns from the virus, and from families struggling to get their money back for canceled flights,” said Underwood. “Families across the country are facing financial insecurity; the least we can do is ensure they can easily get money back from canceled flights.” 

“At a time when Americans need cash to pay for food, housing, and medical care, the airlines have a moral responsibility to return ticket money to consumers, especially after they received a multi-billion-dollar bailout from the American people,” said Congressman Cohen.  

The Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act would: 

  • Require a covered carrier or ticket agent to promptly offer a full cash refund for canceled tickets on a covered flight, regardless of whether the airline canceled the overall flight or the passenger canceled his or her individual ticket 
  • 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 to flyers of their right to a cash refund no matter who canceled the ticket  
    • Any travel vouchers issued must also remain valid and redeemable indefinitely. 
  • Establish that this new right to a cash refund is retroactive for any flight canceled on or after March 1, 2020  
    • Passengers who previously received a travel voucher, but have not used it, can now ask for a cash refund instead of the voucher. 
  • Allow covered carriers and ticket agents to pay for cash refunds with any funds made available in coronavirus emergency relief legislation, except for the CARES Act grants designated for supporting worker payroll expenses and employee benefits 
  • Define a “covered carrier” as:  
    • Any domestic airline that had an operating revenue above $1.5 billion in 2018 (this includes Delta, American, United, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, Hawaiian, Frontier, and Allegiant); and 
    • Any foreign airline that operates a flight to and from the United States 
  • Define a “covered flight” as any flight arriving at or departing from an airport in the United States during the “COVID-19 emergency period,” which is the period from March 1, 2020, until 180 days after both the public health emergency declaration and presidential emergency declaration with respect to COVID-19 expire  
    • The 180-day extension will give consumers flexibility and peace of mind until they truly feel safe taking to the skies again. 

The legislation has been endorsed by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League, Consumer Reports, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which passed the House of Representatives with Underwood’s support, provides robust federal support for the U.S. airline sector, including $25 billion in loans, $25 billion in payroll assistance grants, and relief from relevant federal excise taxes. Underwood also supported the Heroes Act, passed by the House on May 15, 2020, which included an enhanced employee retention tax credit to support workers and companies whose business is affected by the coronavirus pandemic.