The COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly impacting businesses and creating a wide range of ethical issues. Attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, like social distancing, have had a profoundly negative impact on the travel and airline industries. Due to a combination of passenger cancellations, route changes, and major cuts in the flights offered, airlines are scrambling to cut losses and denying millions of dollars in refunds owed to customers for canceled flights. The grounds for these decisions are new policies that may be in violation of federal rules. While the government requires giving customers an option to receive a full refund if a flight is cancelled, some U.S. carriers are only offering a voucher or credit towards future travel. International airlines are continuing flights regardless of a lack of passengers. Because the flights are not technically cancelled, the airlines claim they are free to issue vouchers for future flights instead of refunds.
Recently, 20 international airlines blocked travel agents from issuing refunds on tickets through global reservation systems. In some cases, no-refund policies appear to violate published airline policies. These actions may cost travelers thousands of dollars for a trip they will never reschedule. Also, like the airlines, many consumers may need their money to get through the pandemic. If airlines are unfair with customers and only concerned about their self-interest, they are likely to lose the trust of their consumers.
In the long run, consumers may question the integrity of airlines that are violating their own rules and standard practices.