The coronavirus pandemic is forcing millions of travelers to decide if they should cancel their trips and vacations over fears of the virus as well as stay-at-home orders.
Connie Hall contacted NBC 5 Responds after she canceled her trip and said she couldn’t get her airfare back from American Airlines.
“We were going to do Valley of Fire. We were going to go around Grand Canyons and spend the whole week hiking and exploring and seeing all the wonderful sights out there,” said Hall.
Connie and her husband, Dave, were planning the adventure of a lifetime.
“My husband and I usually do cruises but this couple from church, they go hiking in national parks and we had never done that,” said Hall.
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When the Halls booked their trip on February 20, they had no idea COVID-19 would force them to make other plans.
“You know, how could we even dream of our wildest dreams a pandemic that would shut everything down,” said Hall.
Over the next month, everything changed. On March 12, the Dallas Mayor issued a state of emergency. The city of Fort Worth followed the next day. Fast forward to March 16 when President Trump released his 15 days to slow the spread plan. And on March 19 Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order limited public gatherings and the state health commission declared a public health disaster for the state of Texas.
“We weren’t sure what that quite meant. We were just trying to figure out were we still going on the trip? Not go on the trip? But we knew we couldn’t go on the trip because of the mandated orders,” Hall said.
One month after buying their tickets, the Halls canceled their April 11 trip. They had purchased non-refundable tickets but thought with everything happening, American Airlines would give them a refund.
“I went to their website and they gave directions for the phone number so I called. The automated message said we’re inundated with phone calls. If you need to cancel your trip please go online to do so because of COVID-19,” said Hall.
Hall said when she got online, American’s webpage said, “there is no need to request a refund or call reservations.”
She thought when she canceled, she would get her money back. But instead, American gave her a voucher to travel at a later date.
“They weren’t cheap. They were about $373 a piece so that’s almost $800 we could use right now,” Hall said.
Hall tried emailing and calling American’s customer service.
“They sent me an email pretty promptly. Apologizing, no chance for a refund and we had to use the tickets before December 31 of this year,” Hall said. “I was really frustrated with that because according to everything I’m seeing on the news this isn’t going to be over anytime soon.”
Meanwhile, Hall kept track of their original flight. It was canceled a week after they requested a refund. Finally, Hall spoke with a customer service rep and was stunned by what she heard.
“Unfortunately you’re being penalized because you were proactive. If you had just kind of waited and weren’t one of those people who are on top of things you would have been eligible for a refund. And I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me!??” Hall said.
NBC 5 Responds reached out to American which responded by issuing the following statement.
“We have reviewed this case, and the passenger voluntarily canceled their flight. We know flexibility is important to our customers during this time of uncertainty, and the comprehensive travel waivers we’ve put in place are designed to meet that need. The safety and well-being of our customers and team members remains our highest priority, and American's 130,000 team members are working around the clock to care for our customers. Additional details about our travel waivers, which provide flexibility, are available at aa.com/travelalerts. Customers can make changes on our website at aa.com by following these instructions. Our reservations team can also be contacted via telephone by visiting aa.com/phones. Previous bookings: We are waiving change fees for all customers who have travel booked through Sept. 30, 2020. This enables customers to rebook immediately – or in the future – and retain the full amount of the ticket they paid without incurring any change fees. Customers need to complete travel by Dec. 31, 2021, and have the ability to change their origin and destination as well."
Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation issued a notice to airlines regarding refunds because of COVID-19. It clarified that if the airline cancels the flight a full refund must be given. But if the passenger cancels, a travel voucher is acceptable.
“We as citizens were following the governor’s orders. I feel like something should be in place to issue refunds for those people due to COVID-19. This was something that was unforeseen and now a lot of us are unemployed and could really now use that money. And the thought of traveling anytime soon is just totally off the table,” Hall said.
Travel expert, Rick Seaney from farecompare.com, understands the frustration but said at least American gave Connie and Dave more than a year and a half to use their vouchers.
“That’s definitely generous compared to the historical rule but again if you have your money tied up and you want your money back that’s definitely one of those things where in this case the only real way to get your money back is to wait until the very last moment,” Seaney said.
If you’re considering a family vacation this summer, many travel experts say it’s best to wait and see what happens before you book a trip.
NBC 5 Responds has compiled a list of airlines’ refund policies: