Airlines are investigated for delays in issuing pandemic-related refunds for cancelled flights.
The U.S. government has completed ten airline refund check probes into delayed or withheld passenger refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic when flights were postponed or cancelled altogether. It said it will act on its findings in the coming weeks, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) official. USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg added that the passenger refund probes were complete and there are another 10 airline investigations that remain ongoing.
“We’ll collaborate with airlines when they’re ready to take steps that are positive and proactive, whether that’s improvements in pay that are helping with hiring or flexibility in customer service,” Buttigieg said. “We’re also going to enforce passenger and consumer rights.”
Neither Buttigieg nor USDOT disclosed which airlines were at the heart of their investigation, but Buttigieg said the government “has been investigating airlines failing to provide refunds to passengers after they got stuck with cancellations.” He said the government’s actions are “to make sure that the consumers and passengers are protected” moving forward.
In September 2021, USDOT revealed it had 18 pending refund check investigations over complaints that airlines failed to provide them. Air Canada was one carrier that had been investigated, and it agreed to a $4.5 million settlement last fall to resolve delayed refund claims. Back in June 2021, USDOT said it was trying to levy a $25.5 million fine against Air Canada over its failure to provide timely reimbursement, saying it “had a no-refund policy in violation of U.S. law for more than a year.”
Airlines for America, an industry group, responded to the latest announcement, “We look forward to working with the federal government to identify and resolve shared challenges to minimize disruptions and ensure safe, seamless travel.”
USDOT believes it will be able to roll out new regulations regarding consumer refunds for those who are unable to travel due to government restrictions. Existing laws do not address refund eligibility under government-imposed circumstances. Passengers, in turn, are angry and frustrated not only with having to cancel or rearrange travel plans but with the inability to receive their money back. Carriers, in turn, have blamed air traffic control staffing issues at the Federal Aviation Administration during the pandemic.
Buttigieg said of the refunds that have been issued, “We’ve seen some improvement over the course of the summer, but still not an acceptable level in terms of performance, cancellation and delays.” Despite some problems being resolved, there are many more still to be addressed.
Another major reason for flight cancellations over the past year was the rollout of the new 5G network. Several major international airlines preemptively canceled flights into the United States in early 2022 over safety concerns. The biggest concern was 5G’s potential interference with determining a plane’s coordinates. The decision to cancel was made amid Federal Aviation Administration warnings 5G could also interfere with radar altimeters. This would make landing difficult and dangerous, especially in areas with low visibility.