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Senators propose legislative intervention into airline refund policy

The $3 trillion stimulus bill introduced by House Democrats on
Tuesday would require flight attendants and airline passengers to wear masks
for remainder of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Meanwhile, a bill drafted by a group of Senate Democrats
would require airlines to offer refunds to all customers who cancel their
travel during the pandemic, regardless of whether the carrier operates their
flight. 

Large U.S. airlines have announced mandatory mask policies.
However, according to media reports this week, carriers have instructed flight
attendants not to strictly enforce those policies.  The Heroes Act would take such policies out
of airlines’ hands and require passengers and flight attendants to wear masks
until the end of the national Covid-19 emergency declaration. In addition, the
bill would require all aircraft to be cleaned and sanitized in accordance with
CDC guidance.  

The bill would also provide a measure of additional
protection to airline workers. At present, airlines that have received federal
payroll assistance under the Cares Act aren’t allowed to lay off, furlough or
cut employee pay rates through September. The Heroes Act would block such
payroll cuts until airlines have depleted all of the federal financial
assistance they have received. 

Major U.S. airlines expect to run smaller operations that require
fewer employees well beyond September. 

A separate Senate bill introduced Wednesday would require
airlines to refund any passenger who decides to cancel a booking during the
Covid-19 pandemic. The requirement would apply to airline customers who have
already received vouchers since March 1, as long as those vouchers have not yet
been used. 

The measure would go far beyond current rules, which require
airlines to offer refunds only for canceled flights and only for customers who
had not canceled a booking prior to the flight being canceled. 

The law would last until 180 days after the expiration
Covid-19 national emergency.

While consumer advocates have been lobbying for such a
change, airlines have pushed back, saying that they simply can’t afford to do
it with passenger loads off more than 90% and monthly cash burn in the U.S airline
industry tallying approximately $10 billion. 

The bill is sponsored by Democratic senators Edward Markey
and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of
Connecticut and Kamala Harris of California.

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