Up until April 3rd, several airlines cancelling flights were refusing to issue cash refunds. JetBlue and United were 2 of the worst domestic offenders at the time.
On that date, the DoT reaffirmed that they were not going to allow airlines to cheat their customers by cancelling flights and refusing refunds. Airlines that cancelled flights to, from, or within the US were ordered to refund flights that didn’t operate or face punitive action by the DoT. Flights with significant schedule changes also had to be refunded upon customer request. Refunds must be made in a timely manner.
Most airlines from across the globe fell in line and started offering cash refunds when customers requested them. Airlines could offer vouchers instead, but if a refund was requested it could not be denied. Sometimes it takes more effort, such as asking for a supervisor or calling again, but airlines got the memo that they had to refund flights that didn’t operate.
Remember that if you are being refused a refund after contacting an airline for a flight that they cancelled:
- You can dispute the charge with your credit card.
- You can file a complaint with the US DoT or with the relevant local complaint board to help get a refund.
Some airlines have offered bonus vouchers if you accept a voucher instead of a cash refund. Readers have reported getting bonus offers when calling American, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit for example. Those offers are typically a 20% or 25% bonus voucher.
One DDF member that used my hack to get 4 $14.31 Spirit tickets between NYC and Fort Lauderdale for his family wound up getting back $258 for accepting vouchers instead of a cash refund!
And then there’s El Al.
Instead of offering refunds, they shut down their call centers.
They also took away the ability for their travel agents to process refunds. They’re not the only airline to do that, but several others like Air France, KLM, and Turkish have reinstated the ability for travel agents to process refunds for cancelled flights.
DDF member and travel agent Chaikel reported last month that one of his clients filed a DoT complaint against El Al for refusing a refund on a flight they cancelled. El Al called Chaikel saying they got the DoT complaint and asked him to refund the passenger, but Chaikel told the El Al DoT liaison that El Al was blocking the ability to refund the ticket. The El Al rep was floored and had no idea that her airline was disallowing refunds on flights that they cancelled.
One reader shared this correspondence with El Al, which contacted her after she filed a DoT complaint against them (Click to enlarge):
And after some more back and forth, things got “surly“…
As noted in the response to El Al, their excuse that they can’t issue refunds due to the office being closed doesn’t hold water.
They could allow travel agents to offer refunds, they just don’t want to. They could offer an online option to refund cancelled flights, they just don’t want to. They could have El Al agents work from home to provide refunds, they just don’t want to.
They tell people to call back when they reopen, but they have already pushed back the date that they plan to reopen multiple times and it can certainly be further pushed back more.
They somehow manage to sell charter flights and operate cargo flights, despite not being “open.”
They refuse to offer cash refunds, in violation of both US law and EU law, though El Al was able to lobby for the Israeli law to be changed to buy them more time to offer refunds.
El Al may come out of this situation looking like one of the worst corporate actors in this COVID-19 crisis.
El Al moved quickly to cancel flights after Israel announced their quarantine rules and then charged confiscatory charter rates for people who needed to get back home after their flights were cancelled.
Some people will say that El Al, like all airlines, is struggling to survive in the wake of COVID-19. Fair enough.
But so are many people. Unemployment rates in Israel and the US are at record highs. People are struggling to pay their bills. It’s both unfair and against the law to hold onto money for flights cancelled by the airline.
El Al’s existence has often been justified as being the last lifeline that would always operate commercial flights from Tel Aviv.
El Al wrote to travel agents on March 9th that they would continue to maintain Israel’s vital air links:
And they reiterated that point a few days later, saying that foreign airlines were bailing on Israel, but as Israel’s flag carrier they would continue to operate:
But then El Al asked Israel for a $700MM bailout and Israel refused.
@ELALUSA @EL_AL_AIRLINES We are unable to honor your request for $700,000,000 in compensation, but we can offer you a free* flight between Tel Aviv and Europe, subject to capacity controls, fuel surcharges, and an NDA.
We hope that @Israel will be in your future travel plans!
— DansDeals (@DansDeals) March 10, 2020
El Al responded to that by shutting down operations in order to tip the negotiations in their favor.
Israel’s lifeline and connection to the outside world has been United, which continues to operate daily flights. How United operates daily flights with just a handful of passengers is an open question, but whether those flights subsist on cargo profits alone or an unpublished subsidy from the state of Israel so that they’re not held hostage by El Al’s negotiations tactics is a story for another day.
Either way, why should passengers trust that El Al will refund them when they reopen, when El Al also said that they would continue to maintain air service during the crisis and when they keep moving the goalposts on when they will reopen and offer refunds?
El Al needs to do the right thing and refund cancelled flights now or at the very minimum, stop preventing travel agents and online booking sites from refunding cancelled El Al flights. After that, they can figure out how to survive in the long-term based on getting bailout funds, loans, or going through bankruptcy to shed liabilities. But using customer money as a de facto bailout is the wrong way to go about it.
I believe that people will remember which companies were there for them in their time of need and which companies abused their trust. El Al, you don’t want to be remembered as the company that was stopping people from paying their bills by refusing refunds during COVID-19.
El Al, your slogan is “Hachi babayit ba’olam.” That roughly means “the most at home in the world.” But if this is how you treat people at home, then they will look for a new home!
You can salvage that reputational damage and loss of future flight revenue by doing the right thing today and start issuing refunds. And it might still be early enough to avoid a whopping fine from the DoT for violating US law.
Retweet at El Al if you agree:
#YallaElAl #IssueRefundsNow #DoTheRightThing
Enough Is Enough: The Time Is Now For El Al To Issue Refunds For Cancelled Flights And Stop Violating DoT Policy!https://t.co/0jbDnnxDYB#YallaElAl #IssueRefundsNow #DoTheRightThing
— DansDeals (@DansDeals) April 26, 2020
Enough Is Enough: The Time Is Now For El Al To Issue Refunds For Cancelled Flights And Stop Violating DoT Policy! @ELALUSA @EL_AL_ISRAEL https://t.co/0jbDnnxDYB#YallaElAl #IssueRefundsNow #DoTheRightThing
— DansDeals (@DansDeals) April 26, 2020
If El Al has refused a refund for your cancelled flight, you should file a complaint today with the US DoT and file a credit card dispute.
Have you been refused a refund for a cancelled El Al flight?