Airlines have greatly reduced their schedules in recent weeks, and one of the challenges for consumers has centered around getting refunds for cancelled flights. One would think that if your flight is cancelled you’d be entitled to a cash refund, but that’s not the reality at many airlines.
Well, JetBlue has just introduced what’s arguably the worst schedule change policy of any US airline.
JetBlue’s new schedule change policy
As noted by @scottsflights, JetBlue has just introduced a new schedule change policy, which for now is in effect through April 15, 2020, for flights through May 31, 2020.
With this new policy, JetBlue won’t provide you with a refund to your original form of payment unless they can’t rebook you another flight within 24hr1min.
In other words, if your flight is cancelled in advance in a market where they operate one daily flight, and if they rebook you on the same flight the following day, then you’re not entitled to a cash refund. Instead you’d just be entitled to a credit towards a future ticket, should you not want to fly.
As a point of comparison, prior to this change, JetBlue would provide you with a cash refund if your schedule was changed by at least two hours.
Why would JetBlue have this new policy?
JetBlue’s motives here are pretty clear, since we’ve seen this from a countless number of airlines. This is an attempt to conserve cash.
Airlines are struggling to stay alive and are having serious liquidity issues, and they’d much rather force you to keep a future voucher with the airline, rather than refund you in cash.
I think it’s especially clear that this is the motive, based on the fact that this is a temporary measure they’ve put in place for the next couple of weeks, as they’re presumably in a real cash crunch.
JetBlue is violating DOT regulations
It’s worth noting that JetBlue is violating US Department of Transportation regulations with this policy, which state the following:
“If your flight is cancelled and you choose to cancel your trip as a result, you are entitled to a refund for the unused transportation – even for non-refundable tickets. You are also entitled to a refund for any bag fee that you paid, and any extras you may have purchased, such as a seat assignment.”
In light of that, how can they get away with this? Well, the reality is that the DOT doesn’t really “actively” monitor airlines for their policies, so:
- If enough people file DOT complaints, the airline may face a fine (or something) in the future for this
- The DOT moves slowly, so even if they do try to enforce rules, don’t expect anything to happen soon
- We could maybe see the DOT issue some exceptions, given the challenging circumstances right now
JetBlue is following United’s lead here
JetBlue is truly following United’s lead in terms of customer-unfriendly refund policies for schedule changes.
United’s policy changed several times, just days apart:
- The original policy was that in the event that your flight schedule was changed by at least two hours, you could get a cash refund
- Then United’s policy was that you could only get a refund if your flight schedule was changed by at least 25 hours; this even applied retroactively to previously booked tickets
- Then United updated their policy to offer refunds on a “case-by-case” basis
- Then United updated their policy so that you could get a refund if you had a schedule change of at least six hours
- Then United updated their policy so that if you had a schedule change of at least six hours then you’d receive a flight voucher, and then if you didn’t use it after 12 months, you’d get a cash refund
With JetBlue’s temporary (for now?) new policy, you can’t get a cash refund unless they can’t rebook you on another flight within 24 hours. The airline is clearly trying to conserve cash and avoid refunds as much as possible, instead focusing on giving people vouchers when flights are cancelled.