Yesterday, the Department of Transportation announced that airlines have been forced to pay more than $600 million in refunds to passengers over canceled flights since the start of the pandemic. The DOT is also fining six airlines $7.25 million for their failure to give refunds on time.
CNN reports that the DOT has fined Frontier Airlines, Air India, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico, El Al, and Avianca for “extreme delays in providing those refunds to passengers.” So, if you’re still mad about a Spirit flight cancellation and were hoping they’d get hit with a penalty, you may be disappointed. But that does bring the total to $8.1 million in fines for 2022, which is reportedly “a record in civil penalties for the department’s consumer protection program.”
“[T]he department’s expectation that when Americans buy a ticket on an airline, we expect to get to our destination safely reliably and affordably. And our job at DOT is to hold airlines accountable for these expectations, many of which are a matter of law and regulation,” said Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
Frontier specifically changed what it considered a “significant schedule change” at the start of the pandemic. “In essence, they were retroactively applying a more stringent rule to consumers, and I can certainly say that Frontier would not have provided these refunds to tens of thousands of passengers if DOT had not been involved,” said Blane Workie, DOT assistant general counsel for the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
Speaking about the fines, Buttigieg said the “overall objective is to make sure passengers get their money back” and also said the DOT would continue “ratcheting up the penalty side” until the airlines play by the rules. He added that “there may be more news to come by way of fines.”
A few million here and there isn’t a big cost for billion-dollar companies, but hopefully, the fines are enough to get the airlines to follow the rules.