Action News Troubleshooters: Consumers, lawmakers push for airline refunds

One of the most common complaints the Troubleshooters are getting amid the coronavirus pandemic involves airline refunds. The Department of Transportation said its monthly number of air travel complaints has surged from 1,500 to more than 25,000.

Passengers on flights cancelled or significantly changed by the airlines are entitled to a full refund under federal law. But if a passenger cancels, the airline is not required to provide money back.

Now, lawmakers and consumer advocates are working to make all refunds mandatory during the coronavirus crisis.

"When I called United and asked for a refund, I was denied," said Jennifer Stansfield Marek.

It is an all too common story the Troubleshooters are hearing from consumers here and around the country. Passengers say they cancelled their flights because of coronavirus concerns but the airlines are refusing to provide refunds.

"With so many Americans out of work and facing financial hardship, a voucher for future travel is simply not appropriate or useful. These consumers need their money back," said Anna Laitin, director of financial policy at Consumer Reports.

Stansfield Marek started a Change.org petition and together with Consumer Reports and PennPIRG delivered more than 200,000 petition signatures to the airlines today calling on them to provide full refunds to her and all passengers.

"I'll never be able to use that voucher before it expires, meaning I'll be out nearly $2,000," she said.

Now, new legislation has been introduced in congress to make refunds mandatory for flights cancelled during the COVID-19 emergency.

"They have to return the funding to the passengers if it was a ticket cancelled by that passenger because the passenger was afraid for his or her health," said Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Many airlines are crying poor, saying cash refunds for all travelers could push them into bankruptcy. But legislators and others point to carriers that are stepping up and to the industry's $50 billion bailout.

"If Spirit and Allegiant can do it, so can the large airlines as well. I don't think they have an excuse," said Markey.

RELATED: See the legislation here
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.