Passenger Sues United Airlines Over Refusal to Refund Airfare Despite U.S. Order

By | April 7, 2020

United Airlines Holdings Inc. was sued by a passenger for refusing to issue refunds for canceled flights, three days after U.S. regulators ordered airlines to reimburse customers.

The passenger, Jacob Rudolph, filed the suit in federal court in Chicago on Monday, saying he was denied a refund request for three plane tickets he purchased in January to travel to Minneapolis/St. Paul from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on April 4.

“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,” Rudolph said in his suit, which seeks class-action status.

International travel association says airlines can’t afford refunds

Insurance Journal offers this excerpt from comments by Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO:

“Passengers have the right to get their money. They paid for a service that cannot be delivered. And in normal circumstances, repayment would not be an issue. But these are not normal circumstances. If airlines refund the $35 billion immediately, that will be the end of many airlines. And with that an enormous number of jobs will also disappear.

So what’s to be done?

The simple answer is that airlines need time. And that is why I am supporting airlines (and our partners in the travel and tourism sector) in their request for governments to delay the requirement for immediate refunds. We propose vouchers that could be used for future travel or refunded once we are out of this crisis period. This would buy the industry vital time to breathe—surviving the crisis so that they are ready to fly when better days arrive.

That’s our proposal to travelers. But it is not just their understanding that we need. Our travel agent partners are caught between the airlines and consumers. We are reaching out to them to create a structure for managing a voucher system that will be good for consumers, agents and the airlines.

I know that this is far from ideal. But the alternative is even worse. Without this flexibility, airlines will collapse, and jobs will disappear. Accepting a voucher or delayed refund today will mean that the airlines will be around for when we have our freedom to travel restored.”

Airline passengers throughout the U.S. are increasingly taking to social media to air their frustration at not being able to get refunds for trips canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday reminded carriers that they are required to reimburse fliers for fares and fees.

Dawn Eldridge@dawnzo8 Replying to United Airlines@united

How dare you refuse refunds. Wedding cancelled in Hawaii end of month due to Covid. I won’t be able go for reschedule date due to financial hardship. I bought travel insurance but they won’t honor for pandemic. Shame on you United. I don’t want the credit!

Sent via Twitter for iPhone. View original tweet.

Rudolph said he was denied a refund for the more than $1,500 he spent on the tickets and told he could rebook the flights or receive a credit for travel within a year of the original travel date.

United spokeswoman Leslie Scott declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the company hadn’t been served yet. The airline has put new policies in place since the emergence of the virus to give customers “flexibility” by allowing them to change travel plans without a fee, such as by rebooking or receiving a credit for future travel, she said.

Eligible passengers can request a refund “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,” Scott said, referring to the disease caused by the virus. “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.”

Photo: A United Airlines plane departs Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on April 6. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

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