If you’re starting to travel again, you may have hit some turbulence trying to rebook a flight. Many travelers tell us they’re frustrated over expired credits and poor customer service.
That’s why consumer advocates are pushing the federal government to crack down on the airline industry. The I-Team learned what they’re asking for and what it means for you.
You might be dreaming of a beach vacation. Charles Sanders is. But he recently had to cancel a trip to Maui and reschedule it for this fall.
“So I started calling in early May to rebook the flight,” Sanders said.
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But rebooking wasn’t so easy. Sanders said he repeatedly called the airline, but after hours on hold, he could never get through.
“I did this for day after day for three weeks,” Sanders said. “I must have called them at least 50 times or more. I was put on hold for up to two hours each time.”
Airline industry expert Bill McGee isn’t surprised.
“The airlines are determined to cut costs as much as they can,” McGee said. “And it affects all aspects.”
McGee, working on behalf of Consumer Reports, is asking the federal government for more airline regulation.
While lousy customer service, like Sanders experienced, is a big problem, it’s likely one that can’t be tackled. Instead, Consumer Reports has its eye on helping people like Aileen Wong. Her credit from a flight she canceled during the pandemic expired before she had a chance to use it.
“That’s no reason for them to take the money and not offer something,” Wong said.
Consumer Reports says complaints about refunds have skyrocketed. It’s urging the government to require airlines to give you back your money when you cancel a flight, instead of issuing you a credit.
“If you go online and buy a product, any product - a pair of shoes, a box of cookies, a book - you buy something and it’s not sent to you because it’s not in stock, what do they do? They give you a refund,” said McGee. “No company says ‘We’re going to hold on to your money for a year, two years.’”
And what about the fees airlines charge you, to check your bags, pick your seat, or change your flight. Consumer Reports wants to crack down on those too. It wants airlines to fully disclose all fees before you book a flight. It also wants to eliminate some fees, like charging families to sit together.
“They love that revenue stream,” said McGree. “And even in extraordinary circumstances like the pandemic, they don’t want to let go of it.”
And while Covid is still a safety concern, Consumer Reports is pushing the federal government to require airlines to follow consistent safety protocols. Right now, it’s a mishmash, and screening and cleaning procedures vary by carrier.
“Enact rules that are uniform and protect all of us,” said McGee. “And apply to all airlines, all airports, all passengers.”
It’s all in hopes of making flying a little more passenger friendly.
“I thought for awhile maybe they were doing this so I’d finally give up and forfeit my money,” said Sanders.
Sanders finally got his flight rescheduled. Consumer Reports has shared all these issues, and more, to Pete Buttigieg, the new secretary for the Department of Transportation. Secretary Buttigieg met with representatives of Consumer Reports and other consumer advocacy groups to discuss their concerns in July.
We reached out to Airlines for America, a trade group representing airlines. It said airlines are committed to working with customers to address their situations, and many carriers are updating their policies to include things like eliminating change fees.