The travelers are furious.

Over the past month, they have been observing the travel industry queuing at the trough for government handouts. A loan fund of $ 500 billion for hotels and $ 50 billion for airlines. Travel agents who book airline tickets can apply for $ 25 billion in loans and loan guarantees.

Yeah, it’s a billion with a “B”.

And what did American taxpayers get for it? Not a lot.

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Travel agencies did not have to promise to correct their abusive policies. Airlines can continue to charge exorbitant fees and squeeze us into small seats. Tour operators are allowed to force us into ridiculous deals when we book vacations. And hotels can continue to charge “gotcha” resort fees.

In fact, many travel agencies have just turned around and retroactively changed their refund policies to allow them to keep even more of your money.

“I’m really pissed off,” says John Kovacs, a retired Denver-based consultant and frequent traveler. “They get a bailout and keep forcing us into hamster-sized seats.”

So what would make travelers less angry? Well, maybe we need a bailout. Not a financial bailout, but a helping hand from the government. Travel agencies must obey their own government rules and regulations. Maybe we can’t go back and put conditions on that $ 2 trillion in government aid, but can’t we at least tie a chain or two to future aid?

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Businesses must follow federal regulations

Regarding customer service, travel is slightly regulated. But there are a few rules. One is the Ministry of Transportation requirement that airlines fully refund a flight if they cancel it, whatever the reason.

By the way, if a refund is due, the DOT says your airline must process it within seven working days if you paid by credit card, and 20 working days if you paid in cash or by check.

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But airlines apparently believe this rule is negotiable in the coronavirus outbreak. Last week, United Airlines began telling customers that it can only offer ticket credit, even when canceling a flight. Others quickly followed.

I checked with the Department of Transport, who reaffirmed that the rule is in effect. Then he issued a execution notice reminding airlines that passengers must be reimbursed promptly when their scheduled flights are canceled or significantly delayed.

“Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, the obligation of airlines to reimburse passengers for canceled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged,” the statement said. the agency said in its April 3 order.

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It’s the height of corporate arrogance to ask their customers – the US taxpayer – for a bailout and then take even more of their money. Yet that is exactly what is happening.

No wonder travelers are furious.

Travel agencies must follow their own rules

It’s getting worse. For years, travel agencies pushed their customers into unilateral contracts that limited – or completely eliminated – their rights. If you wanted a full refund on a cruise, flight, or resort stay, there was only one way to get it: the company had to cancel. But in recent days, companies have also waived this standard industry practice, citing “extraordinary” circumstances.

Consider what happened to Kelly Kraft when Sandals canceled her upcoming vacation to Beaches Turks & Caicos, an all-inclusive property. A representative contacted her and told her that the $ 11,284 she paid for her vacation was “fully non-refundable.” Sandals offered him a credit valid for one year.

“They’re trying to find a reason to just keep the money I paid for services that I’m not going to receive,” says Kraft, sales manager for Diamondhead, Mississippi.

Interestingly, Kraft’s cancellation isn’t even addressed in its contract. Sandals has rules for when you cancel a vacation, but not when they cancel. A representative for Sandals said the company has always dealt with these rare cases on a case-by-case basis. But she added that customer reaction to her offer vouchers was “extremely positive”.

I’m not so sure. Many travelers are stuck at home and face illness or unemployment as the coronavirus spreads. Is it too much to ask a travel agency to reimburse a vacation it has canceled?

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If businesses want more help, travelers should get something

Travel agencies may soon be asking for even more help. if and when they do, lawmakers should attach a list of common sense requirements to the next bailout. At a minimum, airlines, cruise lines and hotels must honor their contracts and obey all applicable rules and regulations.

But these companies should also promise to do better. They can’t just pick up where they left off when the epidemic started. Their customers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, now more than ever.

In an age of social distancing, airlines should provide all their passengers with human – and safe – personal space on an airplane. Hotels should stop charging surprise resort fees. And all travel agencies must honor their agreements.

The travel industry should have treated its customers better from the start. But if they want to take our money, they have to start behaving better now.

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What travelers expect from airlines

The airline industry is likely to ask for more help in the coming weeks. Here’s what taxpayer travelers want in return for the airline bailout:

Fair fees. Airlines should agree to stop charging fees that are unreasonable or disproportionate to the costs they incur. This means more ticket change fee of $ 750 or baggage fee of $ 200.

Cruelty-free seat sizes. The government is mandated by Congress to establish minimum airline seat sizes. In the meantime, airlines must promise to refrain from moving their seats even closer.

Flexible refunds. Airlines must fully reimburse a ticket when a passenger has an infectious disease. What about those change fees they waived for spring flights? Make them permanent, please.

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