This comes after they reaffirmed that airlines must provide refunds for cancelled or significantly changed flights.
The DoT says they normally get 1,500 complaints/month, but in March and April they received more than 25,000 complaints.
“The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines’ policies and practices conform to DOT’s refund rules,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao. “The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”
Here are some highlights that apply to all flights that are to, from, or within the USA:
- Rules can’t be changed after tickets were purchased.
- Airlines like JetBlue and United have been guilty of changing the rules after tickets were purchased. Previously if a flight was cancelled you were able to get a refund. If a flight schedule changed by 2 hours you could also get a refund. Now airlines like United are offering alternate flights with schedule changes up to 6 hours and refusing refunds based on novel definitions of the word “cancelled.” United has even changed the flight time of their Newark-Tel Aviv flight to be in middle of their previous flight times so that they could avoid giving refunds by claiming flights were not changed by more than 6 hours. The DoT says this is an unfair and deceptive practice. Airlines must honor the terms under which the tickets were sold or else they will face enforcement actions against them.
- Refunds must be issued within 7 days.
- Airlines like El Al and Lufthansa Group have been delaying refunds indefinitely. This is in violation of DoT policy. Other airlines like United have been delaying refunds past 7 days, also in violation of DoT policy. Airlines that fail to provide refunds within 7 days will face enforcement actions against them.
- Airlines can’t mislead customers about their refund rights.
- Airlines are allowed to offer vouchers instead of refunds, but they must clearly tell the passenger that they can request a cash refund for cancelled flights. The option to get a refund must be clearly offered and can’t be hidden by the airline. Airlines misleading customers about the status of a flight or about their refund rights will face enforcement actions against them. Airlines must also clearly state when vouchers will expire.
- Travel agents must provide refunds for cancelled flights.
- Some travel agents are claiming that they do not have to provide a refund for cancelled flights or significantly changed flights. The DoT says this is not the case and refunds must be provided. However the DoT will allow travel agents more time to process a refund, though it still must be prompt.
I’d expect airlines like JetBlue and United to come into compliance shortly, so give them a call later today or tomorrow to request a refund if you have been denied previously.
If an airline still won’t issue a refund, be sure to complain to the DoT here.
You should also dispute the charge on your credit card, though note that if you booked via a travel agent that may or may not hurt them.
Kudos to the DoT for putting misbehaving airlines in their place!
Have you been able to get a refund for your cancelled flights? If you call an airline, be sure to tell the agent or manager about today’s DoT guidance!