‘It is absolutely ridiculous’: Consumers frustrated with airlines refusing refunds for COVID-19-canceled flights

ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost a year later, local consumers are still fighting for refunds after flights were canceled due to COVID-19. Many passengers were offered vouchers for future flights that will start expiring soon.

Victoria Velazquez and her husband Kaz Masuko were planning a trip to Hawaii and then to Japan to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. But the trip was canceled by the airline due to COVID-19, and they’re still fighting to get their money back.

“I thought they would make an exception for COVID-19, but they refused,” Velazquez said.

Their one-way tickets to Hawaii cost $800. Instead of a refund, Velazquez says American Airlines only offered future travel vouchers. The credits expire in December, and Velazquez says they won’t be able to use them by that date.

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“There’s no way we could. We don’t have the money, and at this point , my husband is unable to work,” Velazquez said.

She says the American Airlines response is upsetting since Japan Airlines gave them a full refund for tickets they had purchased for the rest of their anniversary getaway.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that they are unwilling to bend, even in this pandemic,” Masuko said.

The couple is not alone. Dozens of airline passengers have contacted Action 9 about flights that were canceled due to COVID-19.

The No. 1 complaint from consumers who contact the U.S. Department of Transportation involve denied airline refunds and travel credits that can’t be used. According to the U.S. DOT, if an airline cancels a flight, customers are entitled to refunds, regardless of reason.

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The transportation department advised airlines last summer to refund passengers whose flights were affected by the pandemic.

Todd Ulrich spoke with consumer watchdog Jacob Van Cleef. “It should be refunds because it’s not the fault of consumers,” Van Cleef said.

Van Cleef is with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and has monitored a wave of passenger complaints. He says legally, and using common sense, COVID-19 cancellation should trigger cash refunds and advises consumers to keep contacting the airline.

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“Be as persistent as possible. Be a thorn in their side because only then will they actually give in and give you a refund,” Van Cleef said.

Ulrich reached out to American Airlines about Velazquez’s complaint, but there has not been a response.

Passengers seeking refunds should make their case on social media, contact their credit card company and consider sending a complaint to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.