El Al among six airlines fined by US for too long delay in refunding COVID tickets

El Al among six airlines fined by US for too long delay in refunding COVID tickets

Six carriers — including Israeli airlines El Al and American Frontier Airlines — have agreed to reimburse more than a combined $600 million to travelers whose trips have been canceled or significantly delayed since the pandemic began, federal officials said Monday. Americans.

The US Department of Transportation said it also fined the same airlines more than $7 million for delaying refunds so long that they violated consumer protection rules.

The largest US airlines, which accounted for the bulk of refund complaints, avoided fines, and an official said no US carrier other than Frontier was being investigated for potential fines.

Consumers flooded the agency with thousands of complaints about their inability to get refunds when airlines canceled large numbers of flights after the pandemic hit the United States in early 2020. That was by far the main category of complaints.

“When Americans purchase a ticket on an airline, we expect to arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably, and our job at DOT is to hold airlines accountable to those expectations,” the secretary said. to Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.

The department said Frontier Airlines was reimbursing $222 million and paying a civil penalty of $2.2 million.

An arrivals screen shows canceled inbound flights at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In a consent order, the government accused Frontier of changing its definition of material delay to make refunds less likely, and an online system to process credits was shut down for 15 days in 2020.

The Ministry of Transport said El Al will pay $61.9 million and a $900,000 fine; TAP Portugal will reimburse $126.5 million and pay a fine of $1.1 million; Air India will pay $121.5 million in refunds and a penalty of $1.4 million; Aeromexico will pay $13.6 million and a fine of $900,000; and the Colombian Avianca will pay 76.8 million dollars and a fine of 750,000 dollars.

El Al, which was struggling financially before the pandemic hit, took an even bigger financial hit when COVID largely halted international travel. The airline has been the target of frequent complaints in Israel for its slowness in issuing refunds and its inability to contact it. In April, the Israel Consumer Council sent a letter to El Al asking it to respond to a wide range of consumer complaints, including regarding COVID-era refunds.

In an El Al statement quoted by Passport News on Tuesday, the airline noted that “El Al returned their money to customers” and that after “a lengthy conversation” with the US Department of Transportation, it agreed to a “symbolic fine”. El Al also blamed its delayed ability to pay repayments on “the lengthening of talks to receive government aid”.

Buttigieg told reporters on Monday that the Department of Transportation had “more enforcement and investigations underway and there may be more news to come in the form of fines.”

However, there will be no fines for other US airlines as they responded “shortly after” the Department of Transportation reminded them in April 2020 of their obligation to provide prompt refunds, Blane Workie said , the Deputy General Counsel of the Aviation Consumers Office of the Department of Transportation. Protection.

“We have no pending cases against any other US carriers. Our remaining cases are against foreign air carriers,” Workie said on the same call with Buttigieg.

That didn’t satisfy consumer advocates, who said major US airlines were also breaking rules on refunds, even though they were taking corrective action more quickly.

In 2020, United Airlines had the most refund-related complaints filed with the DOT — more than 10,000 — although the smaller Frontier had a higher complaint rate. Air Canada, El Al and TAP Portugal were next, both at over 5,000, followed by American Airlines and Frontier, both above 4,000.

Air Canada agreed last year to pay $4.5 million to settle similar US allegations of slow refunds and received a $2.5 million credit for the refunds. The Department of Transportation initially requested $25.5 million in this case.

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