US orders airlines to pay over $600M in refunds to travelers

The Department of Transportation announced Monday that six airlines were slapped with fines and collectively paid more than half a billion dollars to travelers who were owed refunds due to a canceled or significantly altered flight.

The actions helped ensure the carriers paid required refunds “to hundreds of thousands of passengers who had their flights canceled or significantly changed,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters. “It shouldn’t take enforcement action from (USDOT) to get airlines to pay the funds that they’re required to pay.”

Frontier Airlines is required to pay $222 million in refunds, Air India must pay $121.5 million, TAP Portugal will have to pay $126.5 million, Aeromexico will shell out $13.6 million, El Al will distribute $61.9 million and Avianca will pay $76.8 million.

In the “historic enforcement actions,” it said it was also assessing more than $7.25 million in civil penalties against six airlines.

Frontier Airlines is being hit with the largest penalty, totaling $2.2 million.

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A Frontier Airlines flight prepares to land at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado, US, on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (Photographer: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Photographer: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Air India and TAP Portugal were both fined over $1 million.

“When a flight gets canceled, passengers seeking refunds should be paid back promptly. Whenever that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travelers and get passengers their money back.” Buttigieg said in a statement. “A flight cancellation is frustrating enough, and you shouldn’t also have to haggle or wait months to get your refund.”

The DOT said that the fines follow a “flood” of complaints from air travelers about airlines’ failure to provide timely refunds after those schedule changes.

Transportation Sec.  Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg, US transportation secretary, speaks during a tour of a culvert near Maple Valley, Washington, US, on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (Photographer: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images) (Photographer: Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

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Its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection assessed over $8 million in civil penalties this year — the largest amount ever issued in a single year by that office.

A majority of the assessed airline fines will be collected in the form of payments to the Treasury Department.

The remainder will be credited on the basis of payments to passengers beyond the legal requirement.

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The DOT said it expects to issue additional orders assessing civil penalties for consumer protection violations by the end of the year.

Under US Law, airline ticket agents are legally obligated to refund customers if an airline cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from and within the US and the passenger does not wish to accept the alternative offered.

Reuters contributed to this report

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