6 airlines to refund $600 million to passengers for flight disruptions since the pandemic began: ‘We have a lot of enforcement action and investigation underway’

Frontier Airlines and five foreign airlines have agreed to refund a total of more than $600 million to travelers whose trips have been canceled or significantly delayed since the start of the pandemic, federal officials said. know on Monday.

The US Department of Transportation said it also fined similar airlines more than $7 million for delaying refunds for so long that they violated consumer protection rules.

The largest US airlines, which account for the majority of refund complaints, have avoided fines and an official said no other US airlines are being investigated for possible fines. may happen.

Consumers sent in thousands of complaints to the agency about their inability to get refunds as airlines canceled a large number of flights after the pandemic hit the US in early 2020. So far, here is the top complaint category.

“When Americans buy tickets from an airline, we expect to arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably, and our job at DOT is to hold airlines accountable. responsible for these expectations,” said Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg.

The department said Frontier Airlines is refunding $222 million and paying a civil penalty of $2.2 million.

In a consent order, the government accused Frontier of changing its definition of substantial delay to make refunds less likely and that the online credit processing system was down for a period of 15 days on 2020.

Frontier spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz said the Denver-based airline has issued nearly $100 million in refunds in good faith, including to those with non-refundable tickets that have self-destructed and were not issued. refund under federal law.

“The refund “represents Frontier’s commitment to treating our customers fairly and flexibly,” De la Cruz said.

The Ministry of Transport said TAP Portugal will refund $126.5 million and pay a fine of $1.1 million; Air India will pay $121.5 million in refunds and $1.4 million in fines; Aeromexico will pay $13.6 million and a fine of $900,000; Israel’s El Al will pay $61.9 million and fine $900,000; and Colombia’s Avianca will pay $76.8 million and a fine of $750,000.

“We have more enforcement actions and investigations underway and may have more news on fines,” Buttigieg said on a call with reporters.

However, other US airlines will not be penalized because they responded “as soon as” the Department of Transportation reminded them in April 2020 of their obligation to prompt refunds, said Blane Workie, assistant general counsel for the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumers. Protection.

“We do not have any pending cases against other US carriers. The rest of our cases are against foreign airlines,” Workie said on the same call with Buttigieg.

That didn’t please consumer advocates, who say major U.S. airlines are also breaking the rules about refunds — even if they take quicker remedial steps.

“Frontier was a bad player in all of this, and they deserved the penalty, and we are glad they paid the refund they should have paid, but we are very critical of the way the DOT seems to like not wanting to go after Bill McGee of the American Economic Freedom Project, a nonpartisan group that opposes concentrated industrial power, says the biggest fish, the one that causes the most problems.

In 2020, unified airline has the most refund-related complaints filed with DOT — over 10,000 — although the smaller Frontier has a higher claim rate. This is followed by Air Canada, El Al and TAP Portugal, both above 5,000, followed by American Airlines and Frontier, both topped 4,000.

Air Canada last year agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle similar US allegations of late refunds and was given a $2.5 million credit for reimbursement. Transportation facilities initially looking for $25.5 million in that case.

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