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