Six airlines were the subject of enforcement actions by the US Department of Transportation (DOT), which came after they collectively paid $600 million to passengers who were entitled to a refund following a flight that was cancelled or “substantially modified.”
The regulatory authority said in a statement on November 14, 2022 that the fines are a part of its “ongoing work to ensure Americans receive the reimbursements they are entitled from airlines.”
In addition, the DOT levied $7.25 million in civil penalties against Frontier Airlines, Air India, TAP Air Portugal, Aeromexico, El Al, and Avianca “for significant delays in submitting money.”
The biggest fines were handed out to Denver-based low-cost carrier Frontier, TAP Air Portugal from Portugal, and Air India from India.
The Portuguese airline was compelled to cover $126.5 million for passengers and paid an additional $1.1 million in penalties, while Frontier was required to pay $222 million in refunds and a $2.2 million fine. While this was going on, Delhi-based Air India paid back $121.5 million in mandatory refunds and was also assessed a $1.4 million fine for refund delays.
Colombian airline Avianca was fined $750,000 and required to repay $76.8 million, while Israel’s national airline El Al was ordered to pay a $900,000 fine and cover $61.9 million in reimbursements.
Aeromexico was also sentenced to pay a $900,000 civil fine on top of the $13.6 million in mandatory reimbursements that were due.
“Passengers who request refunds after a flight is cancelled should receive them as soon as possible. The DOT statement quoted US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as saying, “Whenever that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travellers and get them their money back.”
Buttigieg continued, “A flight cancellation is upsetting enough; you shouldn’t also have to haggle or wait months to receive your reimbursement.
According to US law, when an air carrier cancels or makes significant modifications to a scheduled flight to, from, or within the US and its customers do not want to accept the alternative presented, both airlines and ticket sellers are required to issue refunds to passengers.
The DOT declared that “it is prohibited for an airline to withhold refunds and instead issue vouchers to such consumers.”