Air travelers who have been waiting a while on refunds from their airline are now getting what they are owed.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it took “historic enforcement actions” against six airlines to pay back $600 million in fines to hundreds of thousands of people who are owed flight cancellation refunds.
Airlines are required by the DOT to provide a refund to customers if their flights are canceled for any reason, even if the ticket was bought as nonrefundable. Refunds also need to include any additional fees like a baggage fee or seat assignment.
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The agency said it has received “a flood of complaints” from fliers who didn’t receive “timely refunds” after canceled or significantly changed flights since the pandemic first impacted air travel in 2020.
“When a flight gets canceled, passengers seeking refunds should be paid back promptly. Whenever that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travelers and get passengers their money back.” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a news release. “A flight cancellation is frustrating enough, and you shouldn’t also have to haggle or wait months to get your refund.”
According to Frontier Airlines spokesperson Jennifer De LA Cruz, the U.S. carrier has already been issuing refunds to customers. “Frontier Airlines has issued over $92 million in refunds and redeemed credits and vouchers to customers who voluntarily canceled their non-refundable tickets during the pandemic and were not entitled to a refund under U.S. law,” she said in an emailed statement.
Besides the refunds, the agency said it’s also assessing over $7.25 million in civil penalties against six airlines for the “extreme delays” in completing the refunds. This makes a total of $8.1 million in civil penalties for 2022, the largest amount ever issued by the agency’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection in a single year.
The agency said it expects to make more assessments through the end of the year.
Below are the fines assessed on Monday:
- Frontier – $222 million in required refunds paid and a $2.2 million penalty
- Air India – $121.5 million in required refunds paid and a $1.4 million penalty
- TAP Portugal – $126.5 million in required refunds paid and a $1.1 million penalty
- Aeromexico – $13.6 million in required refunds paid and a $900,000 penalty
- El Al – $61.9 million in required refunds paid and a $900,000 penalty
- Avianca – $76.8 million in required refunds paid and a $750,000 penalty
Frontier Airlines was the only domestic carrier in the group of six fined on Monday, which was an oversight to some who felt other larger U.S. airlines should also be held accountable.
“Airlines that brazenly skirt the rules deserve to be fined, but this latest round of enforcement from the USDOT comes almost three years too late and leaves out the most egregious U.S. offenders,” William J. McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project said in a statement emailed to USA TODAY. “Frontier’s decision to withhold valid refunds was egregious and deserves punishment. So too does the ongoing abuse of passengers by American, Delta, and United, whose market share dwarfs Frontier’s.”
McGee added: “The DOT must address widespread flight disruptions amid soaring airfares, and restore confidence in flying ahead of this holiday season – or we all risk a repeat of the summer’s flight debacles.”
In June 2022, which was a hectic and stressful summer of travel, Delta and United were the two airlines with the highest number of cancellations. At the time, a spokesperson for Delta said poor weather and staffing shortages were behind the cancellations.
Delta announced in August that it refunded over $6 billion, or over 11 million tickets, to customers since the beginning of 2020.
Over this past year, the DOT has taken steps to protect air passengers and make airline policies more transparent. At the end of summer, the agency launched an interactive dashboard to make it accessible for people to see what they are owed by 10 major domestic airlines for various flight disruptions. Since its implementation, nine out of the 10 airlines now offer meals and hotels to passengers whose flights are canceled or delayed due to an issue by the airline.
Story Credit: usatoday.com