Asked & Answered: Know your flight refund rights

Arrivals at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport
Arrivals at the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport(WTOC-TV)
Updated: Jun. 25, 2020 at 4:17 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - New outbreaks of COVID-19 flare up across the nation and leaders consider restrictions for travelers.

Over in Europe, the European Union is considering a travel ban for Americans. This as the EU plans to reopen those countries on July 1.

And in New York, the governor now asks South Carolinians to self-quarantine for two weeks once they arrive in the Empire State.

“You violate the quarantine you will have to do mandatory quarantine and you will be fined,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) during a press conference on Wednesday.

Many who had travel plans are now in a wait-and-see pattern. So, what are your rights when it comes to airline flights?

In an exclusive interview with WTOC, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao cleared up some of the confusion.

“If the airline cancels, then it’s clear there’s going to be immediate cash refund. But if the passenger cancels that is a bit more murky,” Chao said.

That murkiness is part of why U.S. Secretary Elaine Chao said it’s since been clarified.

“So, we clarified what ‘immediate’ meant, what a ‘refund’ meant, and we talked directly with the airlines to basically tell them that it is to their own benefit to be more flexible and more understanding,” she said.

Those talks have also included enforcement notifications. Two: One in April, and the other in May. Complaints are what fueled the warnings.

To give you an idea, before the pandemic, the secretary says there were about 1,500 complaints a month. That soared to about 20,000 complaints in March and April.

The tough stance, Chao explained, is what will help restore consumer confidence in the airlines - so people will choose to fly again.

So, how safe is it now?

“I think it’s safe,” Chao said. “The airlines are keeping the cabin clean. They have intensively stepped up their cleaning protocol, but passengers also need to wear face coverings for their own protection and those around them.”

A $2.2 trillion economic assistance plan signed by President Donald Trump helped with those efforts. The money went to airlines and airports, including $26 million to Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.

It's to be used for payroll, additional cleaning supplies and equipment like masks and gloves. Something to note about flight refunds, the rules apply even if a customer booked the tickets through a travel agency or a travel website.

Click here to read through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s series of questions and answers about when you’re entitled to a flight refund during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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