Senators Urge Airlines to Scrap Expiration Dates on Flight Credit, Offer Cash Refunds

Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are urging airlines to refund travelers in cash or forgo expiration dates for flight credits on trips canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN reported Monday.

According to CNN, Markey and Blumenthal are sending letters containing their requests to 10 U.S. airlines: Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and United Airlines.

CNN correspondent Pete Muntean tweeted the first page of a letter addressed to Ben Minicucci, president and CEO of Alaska Airlines.

In the letter, the senators insist that the carrier "should offer a cash refund for all tickets on flights canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, whether canceled by the airline or travelers."

"Although many air travelers have had to cancel flights due to no fault of their own, many airlines have denied them the cash refunds they deserve, and are instead issuing temporary flight credits that are now beginning to expire despite the ongoing health emergency," the letter reads.

"Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions during this emergency," the document continues. "It is unconscionable that airlines are largely refusing to return customers' money even as the industry sits on more than $10 billion in unused travel credits."

The senators also urged the carrier to, at the very least, drop the expiration dates on flight credits.

"Accordingly, we write to urge your airline to make all flight credits—including those already issued and those that have expired during the pandemic—valid indefinitely by default."

FIRST ON CNN: Lawmakers are telling airlines REFUND $10 BILLION to passengers who have credits from trips canceled by the pandemic.

— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) May 10, 2021

The senators said it was "imperative" that Alaska Airlines avoid adding expiration dates to pandemic-related flight credits, citing complex and varying policies across companies.

"This patchwork creates significant confusion for consumers, some of whom are discovering their credits have already expired or will expire before they feel safe traveling again," the letter reads. "For example, a number of airlines offer multiple types of flight credits, all with different restrictions and expiration dates."

"Because travelers are struggling to navigate these differing policies, they are now at risk of losing the billions of dollars they were effectively forced to loan to the airline industry interest-free."

Markey and Blumenthal sent similar correspondence to airlines in March last year, requesting full cash refunds instead of flight credits to customers forced to cancel air travel during the pandemic.

The estimated $10 billion airlines are said to be retaining was concluded in an investigation published in April 2020 by Markey and Blumenthal, as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and then Sen. Kamala Harris.

Alaska Airlines aircraft takes off
Alaska Airlines Airbus A320-214 takes off from Los Angeles international Airport on January 13, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are urging airlines to forgo expiration dates for flight credits on trips canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images