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New DOT FAQ on Airline Refunds 5/12

Today, the US Department of Transportation issued a new FAQ/enforcement notice related to airline refunds.

Key Points:

  1. The document reinforces that refunds should be made if the carrier cancels a flight or if "significant changes" are made to the flight. It makes reference to both US and foreign carriers but it does not define "significant change." (EDIT: This policy applies to the purchase of a non-refundable ticket for a flight to, within, or from the United States).
  2. "The refund policy in place at the time the passenger purchased the ticket is the policy that is applicable to that ticket. The Aviation Enforcement Office would consider the denial of refunds in contravention of the policies that were in effect at the time of the ticket purchase to be an unfair and deceptive practice." This is aimed directly at United, which is currently trying to apply a 6-hour "significant change" rule to flights purchased when the carrier's practice was 2 hours. This would also be aimed at foreign carriers who are trying to substitute vouchers for US customers.
  3. "Airlines and ticket agents can offer consumers alternatives to a refund, such as credits or vouchers, so long as the option of a refund is also offered and clearly disclosed if the passenger is entitled to a refund." My experience is with Delta, which sent me an e-mail informing me of a flight cancellation and stated that my e-credit was already being processed. That violates this guidance.
  4. "Airlines and ticket agents are required to make refunds promptly. For airlines, prompt is defined as being within 7 business days if a passenger paid by credit card, and within 20 days if a passenger paid by cash or check." Delta's statement to me that I must wait up to 21 days (and later 30 days) because of "high volume" violates this guidance.

So... be an informed consumer and use the DOT document to get your refund (if appropriate). Have it nearby when you call for your refund and read any pertinent parts to the agent with whom you are speaking.

The 2-page document can be found here: https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-05/Refunds%20-%20Second%20Enforcement%20Notice%20%28May%2012%202020%29.pdf

Posted by
3436 posts

It should be noted that this applies to all airlines flying to or from or within the US and its territories. If you purchase a ticket on any airline where you neither leave from nor arrive at a US airport, this does not apply and the rules will be whatever the airline must follow in the countries involved.

So if you buy a ticket on Lufthansa from Chicago to Frankfurt, you can request and should receive an actual refund. However, if you purchase a ticket on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Athens, Greece, this does not apply since the USDOT has no jurisdiction.

Just wanted to state this in case there is any confusion. Or if someone doesn't want to read the document. :-)

Posted by
2017 posts

Thanks for pointing out that I failed to include that important detail, Mark. Hopefully no one would think US DOT transportation regulations would apply to flights that do not touch the US, but I've added an edit. As the document says...

Passengers who purchase a non-refundable ticket on a flight to,
within, or from the United States...

Posted by
2545 posts

Dave thanks for this DOT information update. I’ll save it as we move closer to our July/August flights to Germany. Just watching and waiting at this point but we and our home exchangers in Bavaria just cancelled our agreement this week.

Posted by
609 posts

Thanks, Dave, for posting the DOT information.

I'm still waiting for a refund for my Lufthansa flights SFO -> Paris and London -> SFO that were cancelled on March 10, 2020. (Over 2 months now.) I called Lufthansa again last week and the agent said that my refund is in the queue, but not yet processed. When I asked what date I could expect the refund, the agent said she didn't know. She was not even able to give me a rough estimate.

After reading the DOT document, item # 6. How quickly must airlines and ticket agents process refunds, says ""Airlines and ticket agents are required to make refunds promptly. For airlines, prompt is defined as being within 7 business days." But then goes on to say, "the Aviation Enforcement Office will use its enforcement discretion and not take action against airlines for not processing refunds within the required timeframes if, under the totality of the circumstances, they are making good faith efforts to provide refunds in a timely manner."

Any suggestions for what I should say next time I call Lufthansa to inquire when I can expect my refund?

Posted by
5541 posts

Alaska Airlines defines "significant changes" as:

If your new flight schedule was changed by more than one hour, you
have some options:

Move to a different flight that better suits your schedule

Cancel your trip and receive a credit for future travel

Cancel your trip and receive a refund* to your original form of
payment
https://www.alaskaair.com/content/advisories/travel-advisories#irrops

Posted by
2017 posts

Christine--

The bad news is that there is not a lot in the way of teeth in the enforcement notice. I think you can call Lufthansa and (assuming your itinerary touches the US) reference the enforcement notice and ask to talk to a supervisor if you get no help from the frontline customer service rep. If you strike out calling the airline, the only thing left to do is to file a complaint with the DOT --> https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint

The DOT will contact the airline, and then the airline is required to contact you with a response. If you end up having to do that, then I would love for you to report back what happened.

I have trouble believing that "making good faith efforts to provide refunds in a timely manner" includes a 2-month wait with "I don't know" as the expected duration of wait for your refund.

Posted by
199 posts

So I have a question.

I purchased two tickets from British Airways from Seattle via Heathrow to Barcelona on 9/6 (and back on 10/6), before this coronavirus thing became an issue.

When purchasing the tickets, British Airways said I needed to put only about $400 down, and that I had to pay the balance by 7/31.

We intended to travel through South France and North Spain. I have reservations for each stop on our trip. About half are refundable, about half are not. Most nonrefundable reservations were purchased through Booking.com.

If we are permitted to travel, we would like to do so. We are willing to accept reasonable social distancing restrictions. We are not interested in travelling, though, if there will be a 14 quarantine period imposed on us on arrival. Obviously, if we are prevented from travelling in a manner acceptable to us, we would like to get all the money we paid refunded.

Do we have to pay the balance owing BA by 7/31 in order to retain our right to a full refund in case of flight cancellation or change?

Posted by
2837 posts

I think that the 7-day reasonableness requirement for a flight cancellation refund is overly restrictive. It took 1 month for my Lufthansa refund, and I thought that was fair. I don't think that Christine's 2 month plus wait is reasonable. And I don't understand why she's still waiting when her cancellation occurred well before mine. I assume all refunds should have been put in a que and then processed in order.

Posted by
2017 posts

Matt,

I suspect you probably have to live up to your end of the contract in order for BA to live up to its end of the contract. So, yes, you probably do need to pay the balance on your tickets by 31 July. BA did announce today that it is extending vouchers through 30 April 2022, so if you ended up with a voucher, you would have some time to use it. Make sure you know the refund policy.

BA current refund policy: https://www.britishairways.com/en-us/information/delayed-or-cancelled-flights/rebook-and-refund-options

Posted by
609 posts

I finally got my refund on May 29 after waiting 11 weeks 4 days from the date Lufthansa cancelled my flight. Interesting, that the refund showed up on my credit card just 3 days after Germany announced that they are bailing out Lufthansa.