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Airlines in the US are now required to give refunds to certain people, due to the pandemic. Here's everything you need to know.

Will you ever get a refund from a U.S. airline in the COVID-19 era?

The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the travel industry deeply, limiting domestic flights and pretty much curtailing international travel for the near future. The only good thing (if you can call it that) is U.S. domestic airlines are now refunding your ticket if you are found to be ill when you board a flight.

Seven major domestic airlines in the U.S. have pledged to refund tickets for any passenger who is denied boarding by TSA if they are found to have an elevated temperature amid the coronavirus health crisis, the carriers’ trade union said.

TSA temperature tests

Airlines for America (A4A) announced that member carriers including, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, & United Airlines will all issue refunds for customers if they are found to have a high temperature by the federal agency during the security screening process.

The A4A members will follow the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s guidance on elevated temperatures, which the public health institute defines as temperatures of 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher. During the pandemic, the trade union urged the TSA to add temperature checks to standard security screenings amid the global outbreak – though the TSA has yet to mandate the practice.

“Temperature checks are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC amid the COVID-19 pandemic and will add an extra layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees,” A4A explained in a statement. All seven U.S. airline carriers also agreed to more seriously promote & enforce the use of face masks for passengers while in transit.

COVID’s unique risk

Ordinarily, most viruses & germs don’t spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within six feet of others – sometimes for hours – may increase your risk of getting COVID–19. Plus, air travel involves spending time in security lines & airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people.

The CDC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have developed guidance to help airlines prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, most major airlines in the U.S. require that crews & passengers wear cloth face coverings. Additionally, TSA has increased the cleaning & disinfecting of equipment & surfaces at screening checkpoints. If you haven’t flown since the pandemic began, you’ll notice other changes.

TSA officers now wear masks and gloves, and practice social distancing, and change gloves after each pat-down. Plastic shields are also now standard equipment at the document checking podium, bag search, and at drop off locations. Of course there are also fewer travelers and, therefore, fewer open screening lanes.

World follows suit

In the wake of numerous complaints from stranded passengers, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an Enforcement Notice in April 2020, making clear that U.S. and foreign airlines are obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the flight or makes a significant change to the schedule.

The EU agrees and even has a law that says the money must be refunded within seven days to stranded passengers. However, European Airlines have been overwhelmed with refund requests, and they are still working on the backlog to get people their money.

In response to all this chaos, more than twenty international airlines have made significant changes in the way they handle refunds and change fees. These carriers include, amongst others, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates Airlines, & Qantas.

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