My goodness, the blog today might as well be renamed “One Refund Policy at a Time,” because there’s so much to talk about when it comes to flight refunds.
DOT clarifies flight refund rules
The US Department of Transportation has today issued an enforcement notice, reminding airlines that they need to refund passengers in the event that their flights are cancelled, or there are significant schedule changes. As the enforcement notice states:
- The DOT has seen an increase in consumer complaints related to flight refunds
- Customers are entitled to a cash refund when the airline cancels a scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered
- This applies for flights operated by US and foreign airlines to, within, or from the United States
- Because this is an unprecedented situation, the DOT will exercise enforcement discretion, and will give airlines the opportunity to become compliant before taking further action
Airlines are required to offer refunds for cancellations
The DOT enforcement notice
Here’s the full notice from the Department of Transportation:
The U.S. Department of Transportation today issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying, in the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier. The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).
The Department is receiving an increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers, including many with non-refundable tickets, who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed. In many of these cases, the passengers stated that the carrier informed them that they would receive vouchers or credits for future travel. Because the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office will exercise its enforcement discretion and provide carriers with an opportunity to become compliant before taking further action. However, the Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airlines’ refund policies and practices and take enforcement action as necessary.
This applies even to foreign airlines flying to the US
This isn’t new, but maybe airlines will now take notice?
This doesn’t represent a change of policy, but rather has been the unenforced policy all along. We’ve seen airlines try to get away with offering vouchers rather than refunds. United has been the consistently worst about this, while JetBlue has a new policy that is bad as well.
With this updated notice from the DOT, I imagine airlines will be forced to take action. In particular, it will be interesting to see if airlines update their published policies, given that the DOT is now going to “monitor airlines’ refund policies.”
United has been the consistently worst offender with this among US airlines
The DOT has now clarified what has been the policy all along, which is that airlines need to refund passengers for cancelled flights or significant schedule changes. This is a useful clarification, as we now know with certainty that this policy applies even with the current exceptional circumstances.
As I’ve said many times before, I get the challenges airlines face, that many can’t even afford to refund passengers. That also doesn’t justify them essentially stealing money from passengers and violating the law.
I’ll be curious to see how this plays out…
(Tip of the hat to Simon)