What might air travelers face in the months ahead?

VIDEO: What might air travelers face in the months ahead?

How difficult will it be to get cancelled flight refunds? What about stiff rebooking fees and will the airline give you "safe seating"?

Todd Ulrich found many consumer groups are pressing airlines to give passengers the flexibility and safety they need now more than ever.

Jeff Newton bought first class airline tickets for a Yellowstone Park vacation. But, Newton knew his big trip would have to be cancelled during a pandemic.

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He never expected United Airlines would keep his $2,000, offering only future travel credits.​

“Well, shock of course, I bought first class tickets and I thought they were refundable, and if not refundable I thought there would be exceptions,” Newton said.

So many passengers complained about refund denials after the airlines cancelled flights, that the US Department of Transportation issued an April enforcement notice stating that passengers were owed refunds not future credits.

Now, consumer groups are urging congress to do more to protect customers facing a new normal in the skies.

Organizations like the Consumer Federation of America want lawmakers to consider​ changes that include affordable refundable tickets and limiting runaway fees.

“To prohibit airlines from charging exorbitant fees that have no relation to the actual cost of doing things like taking care of your baggage, cancelling or changing your flight.” said Susan Grant with the Consumer Federation of America.

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Four major airlines charge $400 flight change fees, so in some cases the penalty can come close to what the flight costs.

“Charges of cancelling or changing your tickets shouldn't be profit centers for the airlines,” Grant said.

Then there’s airline seating during a pandemic. Online, customers complain that they were assured social distancing only to find themselves on nearly full flights.

“You were crammed in there with 150 strangers that had been who knows where,” Robbie Wilson said.

Wilson was a passenger on a flight from Charlotte to New York City.

The policies for social distancing vary by airline, but consumer groups warn federal regulators are not enforcing it.

Frontier Airlines had announced passengers can pay an extra fee to keep the middle seat empty.

“That's outrageous. The airline should immediately have free procedures in place to guarantee everyone was socially distant,” Grant said.

Two days later, Frontier cancelled social distance fees.

Action 9 contacted Airlines for America Association about social distance seating guidelines. They have not yet responded.

Ulrich contacted contact United Airlines about Newton’s $2,000 missing refund. A week later he received a notice stating he will get a full refund.

“The consumers need some sort of protection here,” Newton said.

Another major consumer group, flyersrights.org, is calling on airlines to stop offering super low fares and cancelling flights that are not full. The group claims those cancellations defeat social distancing protections.

WFTV is committed to bringing you the most accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic in Central Florida.
WFTV is committed to bringing you the most accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic in Central Florida. (Cindy Kelly)