Federal officials announced Monday that Frontier Airlines and five foreign airlines had agreed to pay more than $600 millions to travelers whose flights were cancelled or delayed significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also said that it had fined the airlines $7 million more for delaying refunds and violating consumer-protection laws.
The U.S.’s largest airlines were responsible for most refunds complaints. They avoided any fines and an official stated that no other U.S. carrier is being investigated for possible fines.
Consumers complained about the inability of getting refunds from airlines that cancelled large numbers flights following the pandemic in the U.S. early 2020. This was by far the most complained category.
“When Americans buy a ticket on an airline, we expect to get to our destination safely, reliably and affordably, and our job at DOT is to hold airlines accountable for these expectations,” Pete Buttigieg is Transportation Secretary.
According to the department Frontier Airlines was ordered to pay $2.2 million in civil penalties and refund $222 million of its money.
The government filed a consent order charging Frontier with changing its definition of a significant delayed to make refunds more likely. In 2020, an online credit processing system was shut down for 15 days.
Jennifer de la Cruz, Frontier spokesperson, stated that the Denver-based airline issued close to $100 million in tickets. “goodwill refunds,” Also includes those with non-refundable tickets, who cancelled on their own and are not entitled to a reimbursement under federal law.
The refunds “demonstrate Frontier’s commitment to treating our customers with fairness and flexibility,” de la Cruz said.
The Transportation Department said TAP Portugal will refund $126.5 million and pay a $1.1 million fine; Air India will pay $121.5 million in refunds and a $1.4 million penalty; Aeromexico will pay $13.6 million and a $900,000 fine; Israel’s El Al will pay $61.9 million and a $900,000 penalty; and Colombia’s Avianca will pay $76.8 million and a $750,000 fine.
“We have more enforcement actions and investigations underway and there may be more news to come by way of fines,” During a telephone call with reporters, Buttigieg spoke.
Other U.S. airlines will not be subject to any fines because they have already responded. “shortly after” the Transportation Department reminded them in April 2020 of their obligation to provide quick refunds, said Blane Workie, the assistant general counsel for the Transportation Department’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
“We do not have any pending cases against other U.S. carriers. Our remaining cases are against foreign air carriers,” Workie spoke on the same conference call as Buttigieg.
That did not satisfy consumer advocates, who said that the major U.S. airlines also violated rules around refunds — even if they took corrective steps more quickly.
“Frontier was a bad player in all this, and they deserve to be fined, and we’re glad they are paying the refunds they were supposed to pay, but we are very critical of how the DOT just seems to not want to go after the biggest fish, the ones causing the most problems,” Bill McGee from the American Economic Liberties Project said that he opposes concentrated industrial power.
In 2020, United Airlines had the most refund-related complaints filed with DOT — more than 10,000 — although smaller Frontier had a higher rate of complaints. Next, El Al, TAP Portugal and Air Canada were both above 5,000. American Airlines and Frontier were both above 4,000.
Air Canada settled similar U.S. complaints about slow refunds last year and was awarded a credit of $2.5million for refunds. The Transportation Department initially sought $25.5 million in that case.
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