As if waiting on hold for hours at a time isn’t bad enough, many airlines are denying customers refunds they’re legally entitled to. On April 2nd, the US Government’s Department of Transportation said it’s had enough.

Understandably, airlines are in a tight spot right now and conserving cash is vital, but after a $50 billion bailout, US airlines holding your money, or someone who desperately needs their back, isn’t acceptable.

In a rare statement, the US DOT offered updated legal guidance to airlines in light of the current situation, explicitly stating that refunds, not just airline vouchers were due when a flight is cancelled or significantly delayed. This has always been the case, but reiterating the ruling is a huge win for consumers who found airlines blatantly ignoring it.

Taking things further, the US DOT believes so many airlines acted in bad faith, they’re requiring airlines to contact anyone who was issued an airline voucher or travel credit, to let them know that a refund is owed, if they would prefer that instead.

Per the updated guidance, the department will refrain from pursuing enforcement action against airlines out of line carriers if, and only if…

(1) the carrier contacts, in
a timely manner, the passengers provided vouchers for flights that the carrier cancelled or
significantly delayed to notify those passengers that they have the option of a refund;

(2) the carrier
updates its refund policies and contract of carriage provisions to make clear that it provides refunds
to passengers if the carrier cancels a flight or makes a significant schedule change; and

(3) the
carrier reviews with its personnel, including reservationists, ticket counter agents, refund personnel, and other customer service professionals, the circumstances under which refunds should be made.

The Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airline policies and practices and take enforcement
action as necessary.

In a same-day move to perhaps get in front of the updated ruling, Delta extended the validity of its vouchers to two years, giving customers a longer window to find use. The airline will still be required to notify anyone who’s accepted a voucher of their right to a refund instead, but it gives Delta fans a better reason to support the airline by not withdrawing funds.

Airlines are burning unprecedented sums of cash, but lying to customers about their rights in times of need just doesn’t work. It’s great to see the US Department of Transportation flex on airlines for a change, and remind them of their obligations to passengers. Everyone is in this together, and no one is above the law.

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