Friday, May 8, 2020

Important tip for post-pandemic travel

Travel was booming before COVID-19, but what can fliers
do to change flight reservations when things are normal
(Courtesy: Chinneeb -- licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
CHARLOTTE, NC With the recent upheavals in every aspect of daily living created by the coronavirus pandemic,  none has been more confusing than the travel industry.

Timing was just about ideal to send travelers and suppliers alike spinning out of control in a frenzied effort to salvage schedules, alter vacation plans, decide whether to cancel or postpone and, in the process, make the adjustments in a cost efficient manner.

Under normal circumstances airlines in particular have rules that are designed to discourage changes which can be very expensive, especially if those changes involve an entire family. In the case of the  COVID pandemic however, the whole world was suddenly engulfed in a situation that developed so quickly that making a last minute adjustment about whether or not to proceed could become a major hassle under the usual airline guidelines.

Appropriately, for the most part, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, resorts and other hospitality businesses quickly waived their normal change fees and allowed for postponements and/or cancellations without penalties. 

But here's the dirty little secret travelers need to know about when things return to pre-pandemic lifestyles and the travel industry gets back to recovering some of that lost revenue; "By federal law, every commercial airline must hold your reservation for at least 24 hours and allow you to cancel it within those 24 hours, even if you already paid." 

(Read it for yourself. Click on the link aboveand scroll down to Bullet Point #4)

Believe it or not the law has been on the books for nearly a decade, since April 2011. It also requires commercial airlines to notify you of this right. For example, airlines aren’t allowed to suggest, whether on a website or on the phone, that your reservation is non-refundable during those first 24 hours. And whomever you deal with when making a cancellation request during the first 24 hours must offer you a full refund in the original form of payment.

Don't be surprised if you didn't know about this because most people don't, and you had better believe that even if the airline does honors your request, it's practically guaranteed that they won't inform you of it unless you ask.

 Be sure to keep in mind:
·                         To be eligible for the 24-hour cancellation right, you must have made your reservation at least a week before the flight’s departure.
·                         Travel websites are not subject to this rule (only commercial airlines are), so if you book through one of them, you may be subject to less-favorable rules. On the other hand, some of these websites do give you longer than 24 hours in which to cancel, but you should always check to find out what kind of commitment you’re making if you book on one of those websites.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) says that not all airlines are in compliance with the law. For example, airlines that reference the cancellation right only on a “customer service” page (small print that most customers never bother me to read), is not complying.

So now you know. When the lockdown lifts, you'll better prepared to handle your own travel destiny regardless of the changes in our post-pandemic world. Should you run into a problem getting a refund contact the DOT as soon as possible. It may further assist them in their efforts to encourage airlines to do a better job of serving their customers.