Airlines Face Class-Action Lawsuits for Ticket Refunds
COVID-19 has resulted in literally millions of cancellations of things from sporting events to entire vacations. One of the industries that have been hit the hardest by this crisis is the airline industry. The airlines have been forced to cancel scores of flights. Passengers have paid for tickets and the airlines still have their money. Now, they are filing lawsuits against the airlines seeking to get their money back. Customers do not want travel vouchers or rebooked trips in this time of economic uncertainty when they do not even know if they can otherwise afford to make a trip.
The most recent lawsuit was filed against American Airlines. Nearly all of the major carriers have been hit with similar litigation due to their refund policies. Airlines will simply not give passengers their money back. Instead, they insist on holding onto it and giving customers a limited amount of time to use their travel credit. If they do not avail themselves of it within this time, they would completely lose the money.
Airlines have taken one step that has been somewhat helpful to many travelers. They have waived their change fees when passengers who have booked flights try to reschedule a flight. Many airlines have also extended the amount of time that passengers have to travel.
The Policy Had Always Been Refunds for Cancelled Flights
Normally, when an airline cancels a flight for any reason, it will offer customers a refund of the price of their flight. Normally, this is not an issue because customers want to travel and will end up rescheduling to a different flight. However, this has now changed due to COVID-19. Many trips have been cancelled and customers have no intention of rebooking either due to the fact that they no longer need to travel or they just do not have the money.
The lawsuits have come in the wake of a warning that the federal government gave to airlines about the need to refund tickets for canceled flights. Airlines operating aircraft with more than 30 seats must give passengers a full refund if the flight was cancelled or significantly changed. These obligations do not change even if there is a pandemic and airlines are in dire financial straits. The enforcement notice came after scores of passengers filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration. However, according to the plaintiffs in these lawsuits, even government guidance has still not moved the airlines to issue refunds. In other words, not only do the airlines need to worry about these lawsuits but they must also contend with the government who may take other civil action against them if they fail to give refunds.
The airlines have received significant amounts of bailout funds in the forms of loans from taxpayers to keep them afloat. There is simply no excuse for them to keep the money of customers who need it more. However, the airlines deny that they are denying refunds. They claim that refund requests take time to process. In one case, Delta has claimed that the customer who filed a class-action lawsuit only filed a request for the refund two days before he filed the lawsuit.
Thousands of Customers Asked for Refunds They Never Got
The lawsuits claim that the passengers have repeatedly sought refunds from the airlines for their tickets. The lawsuit against Delta alleged that the airline rejected the request for a refund even after the Department of Transportation issued the guidance to the airlines about their refund policies. With regard to United, the airline unilaterally changed its refund policy in March after customers already purchased tickets. In United's case, it decided that it would no longer issue refunds.
Not only are the customers entitled to refunds for cancelled flights, but it also may be difficult for them to use travel vouchers. The airlines have dramatically slashed their capacity as people limit all non-essential travel. It will take some time for airlines to ramp their capacity back up after the pandemic is brought under control so it may be challenging to even get a seat on a flight.
The lawsuits against these airlines are just a few in what promises to be a long saga in which customers seek refunds for money that they paid for events and other things that never happened. Some businesses have been accommodating and have given customers their money back while others are thinking about either their profits or their balance sheet first.
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