Why DOT Just Approved Major Route Cuts For Alaska and Hawaiian

Why DOT Just Approved Major Route Cuts For Alaska and Hawaiian

The government said today that the two Hawaii bellwethers will be officially allowed to suspend most of their Hawaii Mainland routes, for now. That in the ongoing saga of travel suspension, flight changes, waivers, cancellations and refunds. Today’s ruling is in sharp contrast with last week’s decision on JetBlue’s request to suspend mainland services, which the DOT denied.

This decision is important, especially for those of you who are contemplating Hawaii travel, as well as those who have pending or cancelled flights to Hawaii. Read on for why.

The government will allow Hawaiian and Alaska to stop flights during the period of the CARES Act, which is set to expire September 30, 2020. We do not read that to mean that the flights will be suspended for that duration, but it leaves that on the table as an option for the carriers, should such a duration be needed.

Until this waiver, the airlines had been prohibited from stopping domestic routes they served on March 1, as part of their government bailout package. Alaska and Hawaiian appealed, and today’s ruling is a result. We assume that the other airlines serving Hawaii, including the legacies and Southwest, will also subsequently receive dispensation for Hawaii flight requirements.

How long will Hawaii flights be off schedule?

The most likely period for the cessation of flights is while the 14 day isolation is in effect on Hawaii arrivals. That is currently set to expire on April 30, and is subject to extension. We should have clarification from the State of Hawaii on that very soon. Our sense at this time, however, is that the 14 day isolation will next be extended for arrivals through May.

Hawaiian Airlines’ changes.

Hawaiian Airlines will be officially allowed to suspend service between Hawaii and most mainland cities during this time period. The company said in their appeal, it “will fulfill its service obligation by maintaining service between the Hawaiian Islands and the large hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco.” They also said, “We intend to resume services that have been suspended at other U.S. mainland cities in our network when it is reasonable and practical to do so.” We await updates to the Hawaiian Airlines online schedule reflecting this new ruling and we’ll let you know when that occurs.

Alaska Airlines’ changes.

Alaska Airlines will suspend services to the Big Island, Kauai and Maui during this period, while maintaining essential services to Honolulu. We expect appurtenant changes to the Alaska Airlines schedule following today’s ruling.

How this relates to refunds for flight cancellations.

As we have noted previously, airlines that fly to Hawaii have been continuing to modify their planned travel resumption dates. This may be as DOT looks into the issue of flights being removed from schedules, but not being formally cancelled. It may also relate to the airlines’ waiting to obtain this DOT approval to remove the flights, while still being able to receive bailout money. We suggest you check with airlines and their websites directly as schedules during this period can change daily. Watch for pending updates from us.

Are the airlines using a loophole to avoid refunds?

When our readers spoke up about their upset getting refunds from airlines, we contacted the Department of Transportation (DOT). The issue relates to flights removed from airline schedules but not being officially cancelled. By doing so, airlines would theoretically be able to delay offering a DOT mandated refund.

DOT to Beat of Hawaii.

DOT is aware of the seriousness of the consumer confusion around flight cancellations and refunds. Representative, Caitlin Harvey told us:

“The terms “cancellation” and “significant schedule change” are not defined in regulation or statute and, based on reviews of the complaints and inquires the Department has received, it appears that there may be consumer confusion about what the terms mean. The Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings is studying the issue, and will publish additional guidance if necessary or appropriate.”

Beat of Hawaii: Our read on DOT’s communications plus today’s announcement is that if the refund issues aren’t resolved, we can expect additional government guidance. Now that the airlines have the ability to cancel flights while not conflicting with their CARES agreements, we hope to see flights cancelled rather than just appearing to be removed from schedules. 

Consumers are going to remember just how airlines handled things during this crisis. In the myriad of comments below and on other articles on Beat of Hawaii, travelers are stating their feelings about the airlines as the refunds are either resolved to their satisfaction or not. 

Read solutions our readers are finding which may help you.

1. Marilyn said: “Aloha, I just received a text from HA and they indicated my May 8 flight is not canceled. I decided to wait and see since I am willing to accept a fee voucher with expiration date 12/30/2021 instead of a refund. We will see what happens. Mahalo.”

Beat of Hawaii: We think that Marilyn’s approach is a good one. Rather than wanting a refund, she is seeking an extension for re-booking in 2021. That is a win-win, inasmuch as the airline doesn’t have to refund the money, and Marilyn gets to travel during a period that works for her. Alaska has offered waivers for travel extending to as far as 2022. 

2. Adam got what he needed: “Today I contacted HA via text message and told them I have contacted DOT and wanted a full refund with my dollars refunded and my miles put back into my account. They immediately completed a full refund. Mahalo for all your advise. – A loyal follower.”

Beat of Hawaii: We have heard many times that multiple contacts with airlines may be necessary in order to obtain a refund or better terms on cancelling/rescheduling travel. Social media has been indicated as the preferential way to handle this.

3. Mike got a refund via his credit card: “100% refund!!! Highly recommend using your credit card company if you want the freedom to choose, and keep your $$ on your side of the table.”

Beat of Hawaii: This is another approach that some readers have reported.

4. Dennis had his faith in airline restored: “I messaged Hawaiian via Facebook… and expressed my desire for a full refund (including the purchase of Extra Comfort seats and a redeposit of air miles) for our May 14 flight…. I said I was more than happy to wait until they cancelled to request a refund, but that I preferred a refund now. They responded in under 24 hours and indicated that although my trip did not currently have a refund option, that they were going to refund anyway. Everything – miles, regular fare and Extra Comfort premiums. I’m feeling much better about Hawaiian now! Thanks

Beat of Hawaii advice: Wait for cancellation whenever possible. Then negotiate the best deal for you and the airline.

Wait until your flight is cancelled if you can, at least until possible further DOT guidance on this. Alternatiely, use social media to contact airlines but try other methods too. If you don’t get to an acceptable resolution, try again. The squeeky wheel works.

Ask nicely if you can reschedule flights to a season and date that works. We are hearing airlines may offer that, and without any fare difference being charged.

More flexibility on expiration date for travel credits is still coming. Southwest Airlines was first here to extend credits for travel through June 30, 2021, on all flights scheduled between March 1 and May 31. That is instead of the normal policy of one year from date of purchase. Ask the airline what flexibility may be offered, no matter what their official policy is.

In your back pocket: US DOT refund option mandate.

You have the right to a complete refund to your original purchase method, rather than a credit for future travel when. With regard to (officially) cancelled flights on any airline for flights within the US, the Department of Transportation states the following. And, if you don’t get what you believe you are entitled to, you can file a consumer complaint.:

“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.”

Don’t forget your credit card company.

If a flight is cancelled, you can also contact your credit card provider to seek their assistance in obtaining a refund.

Updated 4/21/20.

133 thoughts on “Why DOT Just Approved Major Route Cuts For Alaska and Hawaiian”

  1. I just got off the phone with Hawaiian Airlines, I decided to take the flight credit instead of going to battle. The cust serv rep NEVER used the word cancel, but asked me if I wanted to cancel, I never agreed to that. I danced around it in case I need leverage later. They gave me until May 2022 to use the flight credit. I never did get an email from them canceling the flight. They are playing the DOT word game. In my opinion I should have been offered both options no questions asked, since it is not my fault and also not HA’s fault. Now onto the property management company to do the same! Already been told they are not offering a refund. I won’t name who it is yet.

  2. I just chatted online with Hawaiian and they are resuming service to and from Seattle from HNL starting May 1. Should I get my ticket now or wait to hear what the state says?

  3. If it helps anyone: Our May 3-18 flights (Sacramento to Kona) on Alaska Airlines did not get a recorded flight change until April 17; at that time I was *not* notified, but it showed as a schedule change in my Alaska account online.

    The schedule change for outbound had us arriving on-island seven hours later than originally and the flight numbers for three out of four flights were entirely different. The return flight was later by just one hour. I called Alaska Airlines where the hold time was listed for 46 minutes so I opted for a callback. Callback was 44 minutes later (pretty good guessing on their system’s part!) and the representative (from Phoenix, AZ) was friendly and helpful. I used the phrase, “refund in form of original payment” (which happened to be an Alaska credit card) and there was absolutely *no* issue getting the full refund, even though the final leg was less than an hour in difference from the original reservation. I did not have to whine, beg, whimper or anything else. 😀 As of today, the associated Companion Pass has been restored to my account and the credit card refund shows on my bank card statement.

    My advice if you’re dealing with Alaska Airlines for your Hawai’i trip? Don’t wait for an email, go check your trips online to find the schedule cancel/change. And, the change may not be reflected until almost two weeks our (YMMV).

  4. My trip is in July. I’m still hoping we can go. Thank you for all your really helpful updates!

  5. I have a question. I have tix for early May with Hawaiian. I’ve been waiting, patiently, for some of this to resolve itself. I’m fine with a full credit to book after a vac cine is found, hopefully before 12/2021. When you say contact via social media are you referring to the Hawaiian Airline Facebook page? Or, and? Please, I’d really appreciate some guidance. Mahalo

    1. Hi Katie.

      What others are reporting is that contact via direct messaging on FB and Twitter has been well responded to.


  6. We had a trip on april 28th to Kaui that was cancelled, so we made another flight may 12 to 20th which was taken off by south west, when I called they said I could get a refund. THEY gave me $12.92 out of a $359. Flight..how they are getting around it is. They are saying that it was travel funds but I paid only Visa in Feb. For 5 people, but they cancelled our first flight so that became travel funds, even though I didnt cancel them..I wont be flying with them again ! I would like my money back and I found a flight with someone else because I was told I could get a refund ..it was a kick in the face and in the message waiting on the phone all they talk about is being kind and real with cute with customers and Transperancy ! What a crock

  7. Our flight on Alaska airlines for April 1st was cancelled. I asked for a refund and after checking with her supervisor it was immediately granted. The Alaska rep, who was working from home indicated it would take a while to process the refund. It took a a couple of weeks but the refund eventually got to my credit card company and they are sending me a check right away. Alaska gets a 5 star rating for their response. We are not sure when we will reschedule for the mainland ( Bay Area ) trip but probably in mid May. We have been looking at non stops from Maui. Alaska has one to San Jose, hopefully they will keep it in their new schedule. Thanks for all your good information.

  8. thanks again for keeping us up to date on happening in our beloved islands. ima gonna obey the rules anyway and come back when its safe for me and the islanders. thanks again

  9. When I received an email from Southwest that our flights had been canceled, it indicated I could bank the funds and use them until June of next year. I emailed the company kindly asking for a refund instead and the very next day I received an email indicating that the funds had been credited to our credit card. Impressive!

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