Representatives Cohen and Underwood Introduce Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act

May 22, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14) today introduced the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act. The bill would require major airlines and third-party ticket sellers to offer full cash refunds for all cancelled tickets during the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether the airline cancelled an entire flight or if the passenger cancelled his or her individual ticket.

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.

Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

“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.”

Congresswoman Underwood made this statement:

“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 cancelled flights. Families across the country are facing financial insecurity, the least we can do is ensure they can easily get money back from cancelled flights.”

Senator Markey made this statement:

“Americans need cash in their pockets to pay for food, housing, and prescriptions, not temporary credits toward future travel. In light of this pressing need, and an unprecedented multi-billion dollar bailout, it’s unconscionable that the airlines won’t give consumers their money back for cancelled tickets. I am proud to partner with Representatives Cohen and Underwood on this essential issue. I look forward to fighting together to make full cash refunds mandatory during the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act would:

  • Require a covered carrier or ticket agent to promptly offer a full cash refund for cancelled 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.

Original cosponsors of the House bill are Reps. Andre’ Carson (IN-07), Bobby Rush (IL01), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Gilbert R. Cisneros (CA-39), Hank C. Johnson Jr. (GA-04), Lou Correa (CA-46), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Joe Courtney (CT-02), Joe Neguse (CO-02), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Thompson (CA-05), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Peter Welch (VT-01), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), and Tim Ryan (OH-13).

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