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DOT warns airlines, for a second time, for not issuing refunds for canceled flights

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They’ve been warned before.

The Department of Transportation has issued a second warning to airlines about providing refunds for canceled flights amid the coronavirus pandemic. The warning was prompted after the department reportedly received a high volume of complaints from passengers about this issue.

The DOT received more than 25,000 complaints during March and April about refunds. In a typical month, the department claims it receives an average of only 1,500 complaints on the issue.

“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,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement posted to the department’s website, “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.”

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The DOT previously warned airlines in April that refunds are required for flights that are canceled or significantly altered by the airline.

Some are arguing, however, that the guidelines do not properly define its terms, allowing airlines to interpret them as they see fit.

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“We’ve repeatedly told the DOT that there are significant loopholes in its guidance to airlines, including exclusions for flights that have not been canceled, ‘nonrefundable fares,’ and bookings made through third parties such as Online Travel Agencies,” William McGee, aviation advisor for Consumer Reports, told the Dallas Morning News, “We believe all flights affected by COVID-19 are eligible for cash refunds, yet the thousands of complaints we’ve received from consumers makes it clear U.S. airlines are forcing passengers to jump through unnecessary hoops, or simply refusing such payments.”

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According to the news outlet, customers have complained about airlines trying to issue travel vouchers or credits in lieu of a refund.

The airlines, meanwhile, are being hit especially hard during the pandemic. American Airlines, for example, has reportedly issued $900 million in refunds in the first quarter of 2020. Most major airlines, in general, are reportedly losing $30 to $70 million per day because of issues related to the pandemic.

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