Airlines are Obligated to Provide Prompt Refunds to Customers: Enforcement Notice 2020 From the Department of Transportation of the United States
In an attempt to keep as much cash on hand as possible to help weather out the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, airlines have been issuing waivers or credits for future travel instead of refunds to passengers who have experienced either significant delays or cancellations of flights — including many passengers who purchased tickets which were not refundable — as well as implementing other creative ways to ensure that the funds which customers have paid remain with the airlines, which has led to an increase in the number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers which is received by the Department of Transportation.
The longstanding obligation of airlines to provide prompt refunds — including the price of the ticket and any optional fee which is charged for services that a passenger is unable to use — does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the control of the carrier, with a result of government restrictions as one of many examples.
The Aviation Enforcement Office of the Department of Transportation will monitor the refund policies and practices of airlines and exercise its enforcement discretion by implementing enforcement action as necessary or warranted; and it will refrain from pursuing an enforcement action against a carrier which provided passengers vouchers for future travel in lieu of refunds for cancelled or significantly delayed flights during the public health emergency of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic so long as the carrier:
Contacts, in a timely manner, the passengers provided vouchers for flights that the carrier cancelled or significantly delayed to notify those passengers that they have the option of a refund;
Updates its refund policies and contract of carriage provisions to make clear that it provides refunds to passengers if the carrier cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change; and
Reviews with its personnel — including reservation agents, ticket counter agents, refund personnel, and other customer service professionals — the circumstances under which refunds should be made.
I rarely encourage government intervention pertaining to commerce in what is supposed to be a free market; but in this case, action was indeed necessary to protect customers — many of whom are likely unemployed and could use every penny they have to survive the course of the pandemic.
This article is the latest in a series pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — which is also known as COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV-2 — pandemic in an effort to get the facts out with information derived from reliable sources…
…as well as attempt to maintain a reasoned and sensible ongoing discussion towards how to resolve this pandemic.