DOT: Airlines must give refunds — not just vouchers — when flights are axed amid coronavirus

A worker walks through a baggage claim area at a nearly-empty O’Hare International Airport on April 2, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

The Department of Transportation said Friday that airlines must give customers refunds when flights are canceled or significantly delayed amid coronavirus.

The agency said it has received an increasing number of complaints from airline customers who said they were denied refunds for canceled or significantly delayed flights and instead given vouchers to use for travel at a later date.

Airlines have axed thousands of flights and are continuing to cancel planned flights through the summer after the virus and measures to stop it from spreading, such as stay-at-home orders, devastated travel demand.

“In recognition of the fact that the COVID-19 public health emergency has had major impacts on the airline industry, the Aviation Enforcement Office will exercise its prosecutorial discretion and provide carriers an opportunity to become compliant before taking further action,” the agency said.

If airlines tell passengers promptly that they have the option of a refund, updates its policies and goes over those guidelines with reservation agents and other staff, “the Aviation Enforcement Office will refrain from pursuing an enforcement action against a carrier that provided passengers vouchers for future travel in lieu of refunds.”

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