The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has fined British Airways $1.1 million (£878,000) for failing to provide timely refunds to passengers for flights that were cancelled or rescheduled during COVID-19 pandemic.
Refund issues during pandemic
The DOT said that British Airways had failed to provide refunds to more than 1,200 passengers, and that the delays had caused “significant challenges and delays in thousands of consumers receiving required refunds.”
Specifically, the claims relate complaints received with respect to the conduct of the British national flag carrier during the period between March to November 2020.
According to the UK broadcaster BBC, British Airways have rejected the claims by the US government, saying that it had “acted lawfully at all times”.
The DOT’s Enforcement Order said that British Airways had violated the DOT’s Refund Rule, which requires airlines to provide refunds to passengers for cancelled or rescheduled flights within seven days.
The DOT further claimed that British Airways had failed to comply with the Refund Rule because it had “implemented a policy of requiring passengers to request refunds through a complex and time-consuming process.”
Furthermore, the US DOT alleged that the British national flag carrier had “failed to provide refunds to passengers who requested refunds through this process in a timely manner.”
British Airways to appeal fine
British Airways has said that it will appeal the DOT’s fine. In refuting the US claim, the airline says that it has “a long history of providing refunds to customers in a timely manner.”
The airline stated: “We’re very sorry that at the height of the unprecedented pandemic – when we were unfortunately forced to cancel thousands of flights and close some call centres due to government restrictions – our customers experienced slightly longer wait times to reach customer service teams.”
The British carrier went on to point out that they had issued more than 5 million refunds since the start of the pandemic.
The DOT’s fine against British Airways is the largest fine that the DOT has ever imposed for a violation of the Refund Rule.
The DOT’s action is a sign that the DOT is taking seriously the issue of airline refunds, and that it is willing to take enforcement action against airlines that violate the Refund Rule.