NBC 6 Responds

Airline Refund Complaints Skyrocket During Pandemic

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Refund complaints to the federal government have skyrocketed over the pandemic. NBC 6’s Sasha Jones reports

Refund complaints to the federal government have skyrocketed over the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is beefing up staff to help secure refunds for passengers of canceled flights.

Flight cancellations and schedule changes have impacted many air travelers over the pandemic.

According to U.S. DOT, airlines and ticket agents have a legal obligation to provide refunds to consumers if the airline cancels or significantly changes a consumer’s flight.

But early in the pandemic, many passengers had difficulty getting refunds.

According to the Department of Transportation, a little more than 2 percent of all domestic flights were canceled between March 2019 and July 2019. That number is actually down in 2021. For the same time period in 2021, that number is around 1 percent.

Complaints to the Transportation Department during this time period about refunds not paid by airlines have skyrocketed to 70 percent of all complaints filed.

During 2020 and the first half of 2021, complaints concerning refunds made up 84 percent of total complaints.  

Before the pandemic, the department received an average of 17,420 aviation consumer complaints annually with refund complaints accounting for around 8.25 percent.

NBC 6 Responds asked the Department of Transportation for an interview about what consumers should do when their flights get canceled and what is being done to help with refund complaints.

In a news release, the department says they are beefing up efforts to ensure families get their money.

The DOT is taking steps to increase the number of DOT staff handling consumer complaints by 38 percent. They are also issuing formal complaints against airlines with extreme delays in refunds. The DOT is initiating investigations against 20 airlines for failing to provide refunds.

Though passengers are entitled to refunds for significant schedule changes, the DOT  has not specifically defined what constitutes a significant schedule change.

On their website, it says it depends on many factors like the length of the delay or flight. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.