Airlines all over the world are losing money hand over fist due to the sharp decrease in travel as a result of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic.  They are cancelling thousands of flights, changing schedules, laying off or reducing the hours of work for employees, and seeking bailouts from governments in their home countries.  To hold onto cash, some are even violating the requirement to refund the price of tickets when flights are cancelled or significantly delayed and are offering vouchers or credits instead.

A refund is much better than a credit or voucher for future travel on the original airline.  First, you get the money now and you can spend a refund on anything.  Second, credits expire usually one year from the date of the refund or the original travel date.  Third, when airlines are flying again, there may be deals or schedules on other airlines that are lower cost or that better match yout plans.

I have had several flights cancelled this month by US and foreign air carriers.  Some have offered refunds proactively.  Others required effort to get the airline to return y money.  Getting a refund should be a no-brainer for flight cancellations.  Refunds for flight delays are more nuanced.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to provide refunds to passengers when an airline cancels or significantly delays a flight.  It doesn’t matter if the cancellation or significant delay is the airline’s fault.

20200401_152249 (1)

Here are relevant portions of recent DOT guidance on the subject of flight refunds for cancellations and delays.

Flight cancellations

If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets.  You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.

Flight delays

It depends.  In some situations, you may be entitled to a refund, including a refund for all optional fees associated with the purchase of your ticket (such as baggage fees, seat upgrades, etc.).

DOT has not specifically defined “significant delay.”  Whether you are entitled to a refund depends on a lot of factors – such as the length of the delay, the length of the flight, and your particular circumstances.  DOT determines whether you are entitled to a refund on a case by case basis.


Rules for refunds are also often found in an airline’s contract of carriage found on its website.  Requesting a refund  for a delayed or cancelled flight is as easy as calling the airline and asking.  Refunds include any fees for ancillary services such as baggage fees, seat upgrades, or internet purchases.

Here are some steps to take if you get a phone rep who balks at providing a refund.



Airlines Must Notify Passengers They Are Entitled To A Refund

On April 3, 2020, the DOT promulgated an Enforcement Notice stating that enforcement action to compel refunds would be withheld if the carrier, in a timely manner, notifies passengers provided vouchers or credits that they have the option of a refund.  Airlines must also updates their refund policies and contract of carriage to clarify that it provides refunds to passengers if the airline cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change and reviews its refund policy with customer service employees.

While DOT is directing airlines to reach out to impacted customers, anyone entitled to a refund should contact their airline without waiting for the airline to contact them.

DOT rules apply to airlines falling within its jurisdiction.  DOT jurisdiction extends to airlines that fly to or within the US or its territories.  It may also include any tickets purchased in the US.  It is my understanding the EU has similar rules.

Have you requested a refund for a canceled or significantly delayed flight?