U.S. Department of Transportation (usually referred to just DOT) issued a strongly worded warning to airlines on Friday that they need to process REFUNDS for passengers affected by flight cancellations and significant delays.
Airlines have tried to get passengers to accept credits instead of refunds by removing refund option on their websites, issuing notices to travel agents prohibiting them from issuing them, and simply misleading consumers on their rights.
You can file airline-related complaints on DOT’s website here.
Note that DOT rules apply to flights to/from/within the United States.
Here’s the release from DOT:
WASHINGTON – 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.
I would say that the worst offenders are not the airlines based in the United States but in Europe, where they often refuse to refund even when required by the EU’s EC 261/2004 legislation (read more here).
Understandably, airlines are offering credits rather than refunds, but they should provide sweeteners such as a 50% bonus instead for those willing to hold IOU’s from effectively insolvent companies.
Consumers can also use this to remind credit card companies what their responsibilities are.