Jacob Rudolph filed a lawsuit in Chicago’s federal court following the airline’s refusal to approve his request for refunds on three plane tickets purchased in January for travel on 4 April, reports Bloomberg.
He was due to fly from Hilton Head Island in South Carolina to Minneapolis/St. Paul, but the service was cancelled.
“United has engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct through its policy to issue refunds, limiting and forcing customers into a rebooked flight or travel voucher instead of returning their money,” Rudolf alleged in the lawsuit.
“The need for monetary refunds over travel vouchers is pressing now. Travel vouchers provide little security in this public crisis, particularly where many individual Americans need money now to pay for basics like food and rent, not restrictive, temporary credits towards future travel.”
Rudolf claims he was offered a voucher for future travel by United instead of a full refund, which is his legal right.
The US Department of Transportation reminded carriers just last week that they are obliged to offer customers a refund for cancelled flights, regardless of the reason.
“US and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier,” the Department said in a statement.
“The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).”
The Department of Transportation said it was receiving “an increasing number of complaints” from passengers who said they had been denied refunds by airlines for cancelled or significantly delayed flights.
Customers reported being told they would receive credit vouchers instead of their money back.
“The Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airlines’ refund policies and practices and take enforcement action as necessary,” warned the Department.
A United Airlines spokesperson told The Independent: “Since the start of the Covid-19 health event we have implemented new policies to give our customers flexibility during these extraordinary times by allowing them to change their travel plans without a fee. Passengers can automatically rebook eligible trips to an alternative flight for no fee or request an electronic travel certificate, so they can choose a flight in the future.
“Eligible travellers on domestic flights – and customers with international tickets – can request a refund on United.com or may call our contact centres if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to Covid-19. We are proud of the role our company and our employees play during this crisis and continue to operate to nearly every domestic destination as well as six international markets across the globe including our partner hubs.”
They added that the airline had not been served with the complaint “and therefore cannot comment on it”.
It’s not the only case of passengers taking legal action during the pandemic.
Five Canadian airlines are being sued for breach of contract after refusing to issue full refunds to travellers for cancelled flights.
The class-action lawsuit has been taken out against Air Canada, WestJet, Swoop, Air Transat and Sunwing.
The carriers, all of which have been heavily curtailing flight schedules since the Canadian government advised against all non-essential travel in mid-March, have been accused of only offering affected customers the option to rebook their journey for a later date.
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