As thousands of complaints about airlines flood the Department of Transportation (DOT), the department is issuing a warning to airlines: Don’t renege on obligations.
According to a CNBC, the DOT usually receives around 1,500 complaints of that nature in a normal month. In April and May, it received over 25,000. The fallout from the pandemic is likely to include even more requests for refunds over the next few months.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao called the number of complaints “unprecedented” and said the department was “examining this issue closely” to make sure rules were being followed, CNBC reported.
“The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time,” Chao said, according to CNBC.
Airlines’ revenues were ravaged amid the virus, with travel at an all-time low amid quarantine and lockdown rules. Because passenger levels have dropped to historic lows, as much as 90 percent below normal levels, large chunks of airlines’ schedules had to be eliminated.
Passengers who significantly change or cancel their flights are entitled to refunds, not just vouchers, the DOT said. Offering cash refunds to that many passengers, airlines said, could result in bankruptcy.
The losses have already started to hit. United Airlines has seen a $2.1 billion loss due to the cratering of demand for travel and numerous restrictions.
The company recently sent out a letter to employees warning them that furloughs could last until September. The company plans to use $5 billion in CARES Act aid for airlines for pay and benefit costs.
As their industry crumbles, airlines are also scrambling to provide social distancing and protective measures on flights. Frontier has rescinded the fee to add more space between seats.
Other airlines are allowing people to pay to block off middle seats in aisles to add further space.