• The Department of Transportation prompted airlines again to refund passengers for canceled flights during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a USA Today report.
  • The DOT’s imprecise language surrounding refund requirements have led to many disputes between customers and airlines.
  • The agency received 25,000 complaints from customers about refund issues as airlines try to hold onto revenue amid a major dropoff in travel.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Department of Transportation issued its second warning in two months to airlines, prompting them to issue refunds to passengers whose flights have been canceled, according to a report by USA Today.

The DOT received an onslaught of complaints from customers during the months of March and April, with 25,000 calls compared to the monthly average of 1,500 calls, USA Today reported.

Airlines are reluctant to issue refunds during the coronavirus pandemic as travel rates plummeted 90% in the past several months during the outbreak, according to NPR

But the DOT says passengers whose flights are canceled for a number of reasons, including a public health crisis, are eligible for refunds, even if they bought a baseline economy tickets, USA Today said in the report.

“The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines’ policies and practices conform to DOT’s refund rules,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a statement. “The department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”

The DOT sent the first warning to airlines in April reminding them to issue refunds to passengers for flights canceled or significantly changed by the airline, according to the report.

But the imprecise definition of what constitutes a “canceled” or “significantly changed” flight allows airlines to interpret the terms as they see fit and has led to tens of thousands of disputes between customers and airlines, USA Today reported.

“However, the Aviation Enforcement Office expects carriers to honor those reasonable interpretations in implementing their refund obligations and will focus its enforcement actions on instances where a carrier has disregarded the requirement to offer refunds, failed to honor its refund policies, or where it is determined that the carrier’s refund policies or practices are otherwise ‘unfair or deceptive,”’ the DOT said.

Some state senators are outraged by the refund situation after the industry received a $50 billion bailout from the $2 trillion the coronavirus relief package, or Cares Act, according to The Washington Post.

That’s why senators like Richard Blumenthal and Elizabeth Warren are trying to pass a bill that would require airlines to refund customers for cancellations during the pandemic whether canceled by the airline or passenger.

But if a flight has the potential to be canceled, wait until the airline cancels it on their end before requesting a refund if possible, as travelers who cancel may not be eligible for a refund and may only receive travel credit with the airline, USA Today reported. Refunds issues by airlines must be processed in 7 business days by card or 20 days by check or cash, according to the report.

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