Blumenthal Says Airlines 'Trying To Screw' Taxpayers Who Funded Bailout

Steve Scott
May 22, 2020 - 12:33 pm

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — If you canceled a flight because of the coronavirus pandemic chances are you did not get a refund. The airline probably turned your airfare into a voucher for a future trip, meaning the money stays in their bank account not yours.

Air travel plunged 90% amid the pandemic and airlines have been struggling to survive, burning through at least $350 million a day, according to their trade group, Airlines for America. The group says airlines are following U.S. Transportation Department regulations, which require cash refunds only when the airline cancels the flight.

The Transportation Department, which normally gets about 1,500 complaints a month, said it received more than 25,000 complaints about airlines in March and April, mostly about refunds. 

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is now calling for airlines to give refunds to passengers who cancel flights during the pandemic.

Blumenthal spoke with WCBS 880's Steve Scott about new legislation that he's sponsoring.

Should airline passengers be able to get a straight refund and not just a voucher for a future trip?

Blumenthal: Absolutely. Airline passengers whose flights are canceled by the airline, under current law, deserve that money and my bill would give them the right to that cash, no matter who cancels the flight. The point here is that it's their money, not the airline's. They needed to put food on the table, pay their rent, meet those bills and many passengers or airline travelers are out of work themselves so I believe they, not the airlines, ought to have that cash.

The airlines say that giving everyone who canceled a flight a refund could bankrupt them how would you respond to that?

Blumenthal: These airlines have just received a $50 billion bailout in taxpayer money and now they are trying to, forgive me, screw the very taxpayers who gave them that bailout. They have more than enough money to pay those passengers and the passengers need it as much as the airlines.

Should the Congress withhold bail out money from airlines that won't give customers a refund?

Blumenthal: If the airlines continue to mislead and mistreat their passengers, the Congress ought to withhold some of that bailout money, but more important, those airlines are gonna lose the trust and credibility of the customers that they are going to need if they're ever going to get their planes back in the sky and passengers back on their plane. They have lost a lot of trust and credibility by raising their fees, shrinking their seats, canceling their flight, bumping passengers and so they come to the table with greatly diminished trust. They need to earn it back now.

With money tight these days, a lot of families could probably use that refund, right?

Blumenthal: Those families, many of them, are going through real hardship financially. They need that money back in their pockets to meet basic necessities and so for the airlines to say we'll give you a voucher or a credit for some flight in the future, and by the way many of those vouchers are valid only for a very limited period of time, is basically to mistreat their own customers. And one more point, when airline passengers decide they're not going to visit grandma, they're not going to make a trip because of the danger of infecting or spreading the virus, they're making a good public health decision. The airlines ought to support it, not undermine it.

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