Everything’s canceled. Now what?

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the daily rhythms for hundreds of millions of consumers, seemingly overnight. Airlines cancelled more than 90 percent of their flights. Gyms and health clubs closed en masse. Tens of thousands of concerts, Broadway shows, and sporting events have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. What do all these businesses have in common?

They all take money from consumers in advance for services (e.g., flight, concerts, yoga classes) to be provided at some point in the future. For consumers, this meant that they have hundreds or even thousands of dollars tied up for services that cannot be provided due to COVID-related lockdowns.

While many businesses have done the right thing and refunded consumers, many have not. For example, many airlines have made obtaining refunds for canceled flights difficult even though Department of Transportation regulations require prompt refunds in the event a flight is cancelled. Big ticketing companies like Ticketmaster have given ticket-holders mixed messages on whether and how they can obtain refunds. And many gyms continue to collect membership fees even though they are closed to the public.

“There is no question that businesses are struggling with unprecedented difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud. “The airlines that are unable to fly still must maintain their airplanes and pay their employees. Ticketing companies facing canceled events are often at the mercy of promoters, artists, and sports leagues. But the needs of these businesses must be weighed against the needs of consumers, tens of millions of whom are newly jobless and struggling to make ends meet.”

It is for this reason that NCL has been actively pressuring airlines and ticketing companies to promptly provide consumers with full refunds for cancelled and postponed flights and live events. NCL experts have contributed to dozens of newspaper, television, and radio interviews raising awareness about this problem and communicating the outrage they are hearing daily
from consumers.

“What consumers are being asked to do, essentially, is give airlines, ticketing giants, and other businesses long-term no-interest loans with no expectation for when the service they paid for will be provided,” said Breyault. “At a time when millions of families are wondering where the next mortgage or rent payment is going to come from, we can’t let unscrupulous businesses get away with that.”

In addition to raising alarm in the press, NCL has endorsed consumer protection legislation like the Cash Refunds for Coronavirus Cancellations Act of 2020. That bill, proposed by consumer champions like Senators Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal, and Elizabeth Warren, would require airlines to refund the more than $10 billion on consumers’ money they are holding on to from cancelled flight reservations. NCL is also a long-time supporter of the Better Oversight of Secondary Sales and Accountability in Concert Ticketing Act of 2019 (BOSS ACT). That bill, introduced by Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Frank Pallone and Senator Blumenthal would require that any refunds provided for cancelled or postponed events include all ancillary fees paid.

With the return to a pre-COVID “normal” still far away, and new outbreaks expected in the fall, it is likely that consumers will continue to encounter difficulties receiving refunds for some time. NCL will continue to be on the front lines to make sure that consumers are not left holding the bag when big businesses cannot hold up their end of the bargain.