May 2, 2020 | Kendall Creighton How will airlines build back confidence to get people onboard? The industry will look very different going forward. Masks – It used to be if you flew to Asia you might see passengers wearing masks. That’s because people became more gemaphobic due to SARS that impacted that region. Now, and years into the future, you are going to see Americans wearing masks onboard from NY to Chicago, even after the worst is over. Minimal service – Airlines that finally returned decent snacks to Economy, such as United’s hyped Stroopwafel, are now snatching that away because they don’t want their flight attendants interacting with customers. The airlines are once again back to the old minimalism. That upgrated food and beverage service we just got used to on the mainline carriers’ short-haul flights, plus free beer and wine in long-haul, isn’t coming back. At least until it’s “safe” to do so. Middle Seats – Arilines are blockinig middle seats. Not a problem right now, as passenger numbers are low. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens once it means turning away business. EasyJet said it’s preparing for a medium term future of having to block middle seats. Money – Airlines will discount fares to get people onboard – those who are afraid to fly and those who don’t have the same money they used to. That’s ok, because jetfuel is practically free right now. But longer term, whether it be consumer preferences or government regulations saying you can’t pack people on planes anymore – airlines will use that as excuse for higher airfares. REMINDER: Demand True Refunds Not Vouchers- Used to be, if the airline cancels your flight and can’t get you to where you’re going within 60 minutes of your original schedule, they offer you refund. Today we are hearing from huge numbers of passengers fighting with airlines for refunds owed for canceled flights. Turns out the airlines are improperly keeping billions owed to their customers – and some are charging fees even when they publicly announced they are waiving fees. Facing a class-action lawsuit – Since March, a number of law firms have filed class-action lawsuits against carriers not providing passengers refunds for canceled or substantially altered flights. Class-actions have been filed against United, Delta and American accusing the airlines of knowingly withholding and intentionally denying refunds to their customers. The Department of Transportation recently stepped into the fray to clarify the federal law covering refunds. In short, it applies to coronavirus-related cancelations. FlyersRights.org is watching this closely. Immunity Passports – Health is the New Visa Could airlines require immunity passports for travelers to fly again? Delta Air Lines is considering a new type of document for post-coronavirus travel. Health is the new Visa – Immunity Passports An immunity passport is essentially a document issued to anyone who has recovered from COVID-19, and therefore whose immune systems would theoretically have the antibodies necessary to fight off the virus and prevent a second infection. States like New York have begun testing citizens for antibodies. Countries including Italy, Germany, and the U.K., are seriously examining the idea of issuing immunity cards. Greece is considering limiting summer holiday travelers to those only with a immunity passport. There are reports that US officials could be open to the idea of health documentation. Immunity cards could “have some merit under certain circumstances,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN in early April. “It’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not,” he said. Some US airports may ask passengers to upload an immunity passport to verify they have COVID-19 antibodies or go through a disinfection tunnel and thermal scanners. Similar to the creation of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after 9/11, there could be a need for a THA – Transportation Health Authority, reports SimpliFlying.SimpliFlying’s predictions also point to challenges that will arise for travelers – needing to arrive four or more hours ahead of a flight to go through the necessary checks – and airlines, “Enhanced cleaning regimes could spell the end of the 30-minute turnaround, upon which many low-cost carriers base much of their business model.” Also watch for opportunistic airlines to create new ancillary revenue from selling masks, gloves and a block of seats around your seat to keep empty for you. Currently, in lieu of immunity passports, some airlines like Emirates have begun administering rapid result blood tests for the coronavirus before boarding on certain repatriation flights. If a passenger tests positive for COVID-19, they are not allowed to board. REVIEW OF YOUR RIGHTS: Q if the airline cancels my flight am I entitled to a cash refund? A You are entiled to a full cash refund when the airline cancels your flight. During the coronavirus, the airlines started ignoring this rule, but the Department of Transportation circulated a guidance reminding airlines of their obligations. The Department of Transportation indicated that it would not pursue enforcement action for past violations of this refund rule. Q if the airline unilaterally changes my reservation in an unacceptable way what are my rights and options? A Typically, airlines will allow you to change flights for no fee for a flight on the same day and between the same cities. If the schedule change is more than 60 or 120 minutes, or changes a non-stop flight into a connecting flight, a passenger will usually be entitled to a refund according to the airline’s contract of carriage. Notoriously, United Airlines instituted a ridiculous 25 hour change rule in March 2020, meaning United would not be obligated to give you a refund, if you requested it, if they changed your itinerary by less than 25 hours. Q if I cancel my flight because of the coronavirus what are my rights and options? A Generally, when a passenger cancels a non-refundable ticket, they are at the mercy of the airline, who may give a partial travel credit or charge a cancellation fee. American, Delta, and United all charge $200 cancellation fees for domestic flights, with international cancellation fees being even higher. During the coronavirus, all U.S. airlines have allowed passengers either to change their flight one time with no fee, or to convert their ticket into a travel voucher that expires typically within 6 to 9 months. If the airline does not cancel a flight on their own, most passengers are faced with poor options. Many passengers have difficulty planning travel in advance due to work or health obligations. Many times, the coronavirus cancelled the entire reason for a passenger’s travel, such as attending a child’s graduation or attending a specific concert or sporting event. In these instances, passengers have little use for a travel credit that expires in less than a year—they may not plan to travel anytime in the future. In fact, according to American Airlines, 87% of passengers fly only once per year! Q if the airline refuses to provide a cash refund or an acceptable alternative, what are my potential remedies? A When the airline refuses to provide you with a legally mandated cash refund, we suggest filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation. You can take the airline to court, but that will be costly, and the airline can remove the case from a state court to federal court. Currently, there is a class action filed against United for ignoring the refund rule. Q How can I find out my airline’s current policy re coronavirus refunds? A The most reliable place to look is on the airline’s website or at (insert link to FlyersRights post) Q what is FlyersRights.org doing to assist passengers denied refunds or acceptable alternatives? And how can I help? A FlyersRights.org provides passengers with information about their rights and options. Additionally, FlyersRights.org continues to fight for passenger rights in Congress and the Department of Transportation. WE NEED YOU MORE THAN EVER! FlyersRights is your watchdog. For over a decade, we have been fighting to restore passenger rights, encouraging competition and making air travel convenient, affordable, reliable, healthy and safe. Help us hold the airlines accountable! .