When airlines started grounding their flights, passengers, of course, wanted refunds. After all, many people were in lockdown, and many of them also were not working. Whatever money they had given the airline for flights that weren’t happening could do a lot of good to pay the mortgage, rent, or put food on the table, etc.
Short on money themselves, airlines fought this tooth and nail, instead, wanting to give passengers vouchers for future flights. But on April 3rd, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said, “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.”
Unfortunately, that’s not working out so well.
In a typical month, the DOT receives about 1,500 air traffic service complaints and inquires. In March and April combined, they received 25,000 – seventeen times the norm.
In response, the DOT has now issued a second Enforcement Notice regarding airline ticket refunds given COVID-19’s unprecedented impact on air travel. This document, a PDF, provides a FAQ about refunds. That will potentially help consumers understand their rights, but also ensures airlines and ticket agents are complying with aviation consumer protection requirements.
The FAQ is simple enough and explains the situations wherein an airline is under obligation to refund the passengers, as well as when they’re not (i.e., “Passengers who purchase a non-refundable ticket on a flight to, within, or from the United States that is still being operated without a significant change, but would like to change or cancel their reservation, are generally not entitled to a refund or a travel voucher for future use on the airline. This is true even if the passenger wishes to change or cancel due to concerns related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”). I particularly like this one:
What is the enforcement approach of the Aviation Enforcement Office?
Given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on the aviation industry, the Aviation Enforcement Office intends to exercise its enforcement discretion and first provide carriers and ticket agents an opportunity to become compliant. The Aviation Enforcement Office will continue to monitor airline policies and practices and take enforcement action as necessary and appropriate.
And this one, which is obviously aimed at United Airlines, which has been trying to change their rules retroactively:
May airlines and ticket agents retroactively apply new refund policies?
The Department interprets the statutory prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices to cover actions by airlines and ticket agents applying changes retroactively to their refund policies that affect consumers negatively. The refund policy in place at the time the passenger purchased the ticket is the policy that is applicable to that ticket. The Aviation Enforcement Office would consider the denial of refunds in contravention of the policies that were in effect at the time of the ticket purchase to be an unfair and deceptive practice.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao also made the following statement:
“The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines’ policies and practices conform to DOT’s refund rules. The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”
So we’ll see if that helps.
#stayhealthy #staysafe #washyourhands
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary