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.