DoT Tells Airlines Again to Issue Refunds to Customers
The Department of Transportation told airlines in April they must give customers refunds when flights are canceled or significantly delayed during the coronavirus pandemic. Now the agency is issuing a second warning to airlines as it continues to receive complaints from passengers. Regulators also said they will provide airlines some relief from a requirement that carriers continue flying into cities where demand for air travel is close to nonexistent.
DoT said is continuing to “receive a high volume of air travel service complaints and inquiries given the unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency on air travel. In a typical month, the Department receives approximately 1,500 air travel service complaints and inquiries. However, in March 2020 and April 2020, more than 25,000 air travel service complaints and inquiries were filed,1 many of which concern refunds. 2 Airlines and ticket agents have also requested guidance about their refund obligations.”
As explained in the Department’s Enforcement Notice issued on April 3, 2020, “airlines have an obligation to provide a refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels or significantly changes the passenger’s flight, and the passenger chooses not to accept an alternative offered by the carrier.3 However, neither the term “significant change” nor “cancellation” is defined in regulation or statute. Based on the Aviation Enforcement Office’s review of the refund policies and practices of U.S. and foreign air carriers, airlines define “significant change” and “cancellation” differently when fulfilling their obligation to provide refunds.”