In an interview Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says that airlines have to refund customers when they cancel flights. That’s clear, published DOT policy.
Currently many airlines are breaking the law refusing refunds for cancelled flights, or misleading customers into taking travel credits instead of cash, and going out of their way to make the refund process more difficult.
In the U.S., United Airlines and JetBlue have been especially big offenders. American Airlines has probably been the best actor in my experience.
DOT action may pressure airlines to change here, or at a minimum the DOT may be responsive to consumer complaints, based on Secretary Chao’s guidance.
Some airlines are refusing to give refunds to canceled flights, and instead are offering travel credits. However, Chao said her department will order airlines to abide by federal policies, and people should be eligible for full refunds.
“During extraordinary times like this when people have to make involuntary travel, plan changes — I think we all need to be more flexible,” she said. “But on top of that, the department has a responsibility to look at the consumer protection rights of passengers, and we will do that.”
In a statement today, DOT made it explicit that refunds including option fees for additional services must be refunded even when the cause of the disruption is outside the airline’s control.
So in addition to seeking redress from your credit card company, consider filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
Secretary Chao also said that the government should not ground the airlines, and that flying decisions should be left up to them – and that the nation needs the airlines flying, even now.
[A]irline companies are experiencing a 94% drop in passengers. Some of the airplanes are huge 737s — they’re carrying six people, they’re carrying nine people,” she said on Thursday. “These are commercial decisions that should be made by the airline companies.”
…“The airline companies are hurting badly, but there are still people who need to get from, for example, New York to California. They can’t spend three days driving from New York to California,” she said. “They need to have this essential service available.”
That seems right as a first principle, though I can imagine future restrictions on flying out of virus hot spots, especially to places that have successfully contained COVID-19.
[…] differently. Some offered refunds, some offered vouchers. Some who initially only offered vouchers now have to offer refunds, as per the DOT (H/T: Gary […]