US airlines ordered to reimburse flights canceled by virus

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Airlines must fully reimburse air tickets for passengers whose flights were canceled during the COVID-19 epidemic, the US Department of Transportation ordered on Friday.

It receives an increasing number of complaints from people who say the airlines refused to reimburse after the flights were canceled, the agency said in a press release and an execution notice.

“The obligation of the airlines to reimburse, including the price of the ticket and the optional costs invoiced for the services which a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the disruptions to the flight are beyond the control of the carrier, “the agency said.

The directive applies to domestic and foreign airlines for flights to, within, or from the United States. It applies when an airline “significantly changes its schedule and the passenger chooses not to not accept the alternative offered by the carrier, “according to the ministry.

The order threatens to add additional financial pressure to an industry that faces serious challenges due to a dramatic drop in demand even as it prepares to start receiving $ 50 billion in loans and payroll assistance payments contained in a government bailout.

Passenger traffic on Thursday dropped about 95 percent from a year ago, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Only 124,021 passed security that day compared to 2.4 million on the equivalent weekday in 2019.

In response, the airlines have canceled thousands of flights a day and the cuts are expected to continue for weeks or more.

Instead of reimbursing passengers, the airlines told them they would only receive vouchers or credits for future trips, the ministry said in the statement.

Rules requiring refunds have been in place for decades, according to the DOT. They were applied after previous disruptions to the air system, such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the agency said.

The major airline group, Airlines for America, released a statement on Friday saying its members are working closely with government and Congress during the viral emergency.

“Since the earliest stages of the crisis, carriers have worked to increase communications with customers, as well as to introduce travel policies to accommodate passengers during this health crisis,” the group said in a statement.

The trade group did not directly explain the extent to which US airlines were unwilling to make refunds or whether carriers changed their policies.

Initially, the government gives airlines the ability to comply with the law by themselves, said the Department of Transport. “However, the Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airline reimbursement policies and practices and take enforcement action if necessary,” he added.



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