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US asks Air India to pay $121.5 million in refunds for delayed flights

Air India and five others to pay more than $600 million in refunds and $7.25 million in fines

The US has directed Air India to pay $121.5 million in refunds to passengers due to a canceled or significantly changed flight and imposed a $1.4 million penalty for extreme delays in providing refunds.

Air India and five other airlines — Frontier, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico , El Al and Avianca — have together paid more than $600 million in refunds with more than $7.25 million in civil penalties in “historic enforcement actions,” Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Nov 14.

A majority of the assessed fines will be collected in the form of payments to the Treasury Department, with the remainder credited on the basis of payments to passengers beyond the legal requirement, DOT said in a press release.

Read: To meet student rush, Air India doubling US flights (July 30, 2021)

“These fines are part of DOT’s ongoing work to ensure Americans receive the refunds they are owed from airlines,” DOT said

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has received a flood of complaints from air travelers about airlines’ failures to provide timely refunds after they had their flights canceled or significantly changed, it said.

“When a flight gets canceled, passengers seeking refunds should be paid back promptly. Whenever that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travelers and get passengers their money back.” said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “A flight cancellation is frustrating enough, and you shouldn’t also have to haggle or wait months to get your refund.”
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Under US law, airlines and ticket agents have a legal obligation to refund consumers if the airline cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from and within the United States, and the passenger does not wish to accept the alternative offered, DOT said. It is unlawful for an airline to refuse refunds and instead provide vouchers to such consumers, it said.

Apart from the fines DOT has taken several other actions to protect consumers, the release said. These include a new airline customer service dashboard to help consumers determine what they are owed when a flight is cancelled or delayed because of an airline issue.

DOT has also proposed a rule that would significantly strengthen protections for consumers by ensuring that they have access to certain fee information before they purchase their airline tickets.

Under the proposed rule, airlines and travel search websites would have to disclose upfront – the first time an airfare is displayed – any fees charged to sit with your child, for changing or cancelling your flight, and for checked or carry-on baggage.

Read: US orders Air India to pay $1.4 million for delay in providing refunds for cancelled flights (November 15, 2022)

The proposal seeks to provide customers the information they need to choose the best deal, DOT said noting otherwise, surprise fees can add up quickly and overcome what may look at first to be a cheap fare.

DOT has also proposed a rule to refund passengers for services they paid for that aren’t actually provided, for example broken WiFi.

DOT asked members of the public and interested parties to submit comments by Dec 19.

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