U.S. Department of Transportation: clarifies that airlines must reimburse customers

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FILE – In this Dec. 11, 2019, file photo, an United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in the rain at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash. United Airlines said Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, that it is removing the grounded Boeing 737 Max from its schedule until early September, forcing it to cancel thousands more flights. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an Enforcement Notice clarifying that both domestic and foreign airlines must offer a prompt refund to passengers amid the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The reimbursement applies to 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.  The notice can be found here: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/enforcement-notice-regarding-refunds-carriers-given-unprecedented-impact-covid-19.

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