KEY POINTS

  • Qatar Airways said it has processed 96% of requests that have come in since March
  • 600,000 airline passengers sought refunds and they are now being issued to the original payment form
  • Airlines have lost more than $84 billion globally as a result of the pandemic

Qatar Airways said Tuesday it had refunded more than $1.2 billion to nearly 600,000 passengers since March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the impact of COVID-19 on global travel, passengers have had to change their plans at short notice and it has been difficult for them to plan ahead with any certainty,” CEO Akbar Al Baker acknowledged in a press release, adding, “The amount we have paid out in refunds has undoubtedly had an impact on our bottom line.”

The airline said it had received more than 10,000 requests for refunds a day at the height of the global pandemic, issuing vouchers, which are now good for two years, within 72 hours through an automated, online process. It said it has made good on 96% of requests since March and is now providing full refunds to the original form of payment.

The International Air Transport Association estimates airlines have lost more than $84 billion due to the pandemic, with 7.5 million flights canceled between January and July and demand off 54%.

American Airlines this week asked a court to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed by three individuals accusing the airline of violating consumer protection rules. The suit seeks refunds rather than vouchers.

“American ‘do[es]n’t refund cash for non-refundable tickets’ when passengers themselves ‘cancel [their] trip before departure,’” the motion said. “Rather, such passengers may instead apply the ‘value of [their] ticket toward future travel on American,’ after pay[ing] a change fee plus any difference in fare.’”

American's vouchers are good only for a year, as are United’s. Southwest Airlines is giving travelers an alternative: Rather than allowing vouchers to expire, travelers can convert their vouchers to travel rewards, which never expire.

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