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Lawsuits & Litigation

Minnesota Policeman Sues United Airlines for Skimping on Cash Refund

— April 7, 2020

United Airlines has attracted flak for last-minute policy changes and flat-out refusals to provide cash refunds.

A Minnesota man is suing United Airlines, saying the carrier refused to offer a cash refund for a trip canceled due to the coronavirus crisis.

The New York Post reports that the lawsuit was filed by Jacob Rudolph, a Minnesota police officer. Rudolph had planned an early April vacation for himself and two family members. In total, he spent just over $1,500 on tickets to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

But like so many other Americans, Rudolph’s vacation plans were cut short by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Despite requesting and being entitled to a refund for his cancelled flight, United has refused to provide Plaintiff a refund,” the lawsuit states.

Instead, United told him that he could avail a free flight change or receive an expiring travel credit.

“The need for monetary refunds over travel vouchers is pressing now,” the lawsuit says. “Travel vouchers provide little security in this public crisis, particularly where many individual Americans need money now to pay for basics like food and rent, not restrictive, temporary credits toward future travel.”

The Post notes that the lawsuit is being filed as a potential class action—thousands of United passengers have experienced similar problems. That’s because, at the beginning of March, United covertly changed its policies regarding cancellations and complimentary changes.

And United has purportedly told passengers who are still eligible for refunds that it might take up to a year to return money to their accounts.

Now, United—like other big, U.S.-based carriers—is set to receive a multi-billion dollar bailout from the federal government. As reported last week, a group of Democratic senators have demanded that air carriers extend consumers the courtesy of actual refunds, rather than expiring travel credits or vouchers.

“We believe your company has a moral responsibility to provide real refunds, not travel vouchers, to consumers, to support State Department efforts to repatriate any American citizens trying to come home,” the senators wrote in a letter to the chief executive of 11 major airlines, including United.

The influential group of senators included an assortment of big names from 2020 Democratic primary, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klubochar and Bernie Sanders.

“The airline industry got $25 billion [in bailout money] to keep workers on payroll—but they’re not the only ones hurting right now,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote on Twitter. “I want airlines to provide customers cash refunds, not just travel vouchers, for canceled flights.”

Steve Barman, the attorney representing Rudolph in the suit, echoed the senators’ sentiments.

“Airlines are set to receive a hefty bailout for their share of the unforeseen hardships the pandemic has caused, to the tune of $58 billion,” Barman said in a statement. “And yet, United and other airlines, are leaving their customers helpless, adding one more worry to a seemingly endless list.”


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