The Wall Street Journal published an excellent article on "The Airlines are Making Refunds More Difficult." I'll put the link at the bottom of the post, but it often won't open if you don't have a subscription. I will also quote some key points below. Everything that follows is quotes from the article by Scott McCartney.
With the coronavirus crisis, airlines have imposed new policies that may violate federal rules. The Transportation Department requires giving customers an option to take a full refund if the airline cancels a flight, for example. Yet many airlines—U.S. carriers as well as airlines flying to the U.S. covered by the same regulation—are offering only a voucher toward future travel.
Regulations do make an exception when governments close airspace, and several international airlines have argued that they are canceling flights not because of a lack of passengers and the need to control their own costs, but because of government edicts. Since the cancellation wasn’t the airline’s choice, they argue, they are free to issue vouchers.
As of Tuesday, 30 international airlines, including Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, Emirates, Scandinavian, Turkish, TAP Air Portugal, WestJet and El Al, have blocked travel agents from issuing refunds on tickets through global reservation systems and informed Airlines Reporting Corp., the central processor of tickets issued by travel agencies, that refunds can only be made by the airlines themselves.
United is making customers wait a year for refunds on international flights it cancels. The airline is issuing vouchers toward future flights and telling customers they can get a refund later if they don’t use it. United also changed its policy on domestic schedule changes to make it more difficult for customers to get refunds. DOT regulations require airlines honor the rules in place when a ticket was written.
Routes to a Refund
* Wait as long as you can before voluntarily canceling your flights. If the airline cancels, rather than you voluntarily canceling, you stand a chance of getting a refund rather than a voucher. This applies to hurricanes and blizzards as well as pandemics. It’s an important travel tip.
- Reach out to the airline on social media, by email or by phone. Someday phone waits may lessen. It’s worth appealing, especially if you have high status in the airline’s frequent-flier program.