KXAN Austin

Department of Transportation urges airlines to be honest and repay passengers

WASHINGTON D.C. (WCMH) — There’s been a 96 percent drop in air travel since the pandemic started leaving millions of passengers wondering what options they have. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation is warning airlines to follow the law when it comes to getting people their money back.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao says it hasn’t been easy for flyers as the coronavirus has disrupted their travel plans.

“What we’ve been finding is that the airlines have been conducting their refund policies differently, and so it was confusing to the passenger,” Chao said.

Chao says the Department of Transportation received more than 25,000 complaints from air travelers in March and April, so this week her department issued a second enforcement notice to airlines.

“Our rules require that if an airline cancels a flight, the passenger is entitled to a prompt refund,” she said.

But that rule does not apply when passengers change their own plans, however, Chao is urging airlines to be more understanding and be as flexible as possible.

But Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal says airlines have been anything but flexible.

“They are, forgive me, screwing the very tax payers who provided a bailout to them,” Blumenthal said.

He says if passengers decide it’s not safe to fly, they still ought to get full refunds and not just a voucher.

“Passengers should not be penalized for doing the right thing,” he said.

Chao says by law, air carriers must be truthful with all passengers.

“If they’re not, they will face the enforcement action of the U.S. Department of Transportation,” Chao said.

But despite the federal guidance, each airline still has its own refund or voucher policy.