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May 2020 Sees 12,303% Increase in Refund Complaints to U.S. DOT

More Americans are getting frustrated over airlines cancelling flights and not offering refunds in exchange, due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, complaints about refund practices skyrocketed in May 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the United States, airlines are continuing to trim schedules and reduce overall capacity. However, as they cancel already scheduled flights, more flyers are growing frustrated that they are not getting a refund. The new information comes from the latest U.S. Department of Transportation Air Travel Consumer Report, released Aug. 21, 2020.

Complaints Spike as U.S. Operated Domestic Flights See New Lows

The data released by the airline reflects the data for May 2020, two months after government shutdowns forced businesses to close and airlines to begin changing schedules. According to the data, the top 10 marketing network carriers scheduled just over 190,000 flights in the month – down from over 330,000 scheduled flights in April 2020, and 694,000 in March 2020.

However, the actual number of operated flights hit an all-time monthly low. Airlines only flew 180,151 flights in May 2020 – the worst number yet since the COVID-19 pandemic started. This beats the previous low set in April 2020, when airlines only flew 194,390 flights. The previous all-time low was recorded in February 1994, when airlines only flew just over 370,000 flights.

U.S. Airlines Operated Domestic Flights Through May 2020

Graph courtesy: U.S. Department of Transportation

As those flights were wiped off schedules, flyers took their concerns about getting refunds to the DOT. In May 2020 alone, flyers filed 20,915 complaints about refunds, making it the top category of the month. In May 2019, flyers only filed 170 complaints – reflecting an increase of over 12,000 percent year-over-year. Other issue categories taken to the DOT include airfares, with 344 complaints; reservation, ticketing and boarding complaints with 341; and customer service, with 107.

Over half of those complaints were filed against domestic carriers. United Airlines received the most complaints about refunds, with 3,215 filed with the DOT. American Airlines came in second, having 1,024 complaints filed against them. Delta Air Lines had 945 complaints, while low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines had 887.

Of the over 10,000 refund complaints filed against foreign carriers, Air Canada received the most, with 1,705. TAP Air Portugal had 910 refund complaints filed against them, while Germany’s Lufthansa had 557 complaints.

Airlines and Flyers Locked in Fight Over Refunds

While airlines say they are in the right by offering credits instead of refunds, flyers are starting to take action into their own hands. A lawsuit filed in June 2020 is seeking to compel American to provide refunds to flyers, while the carrier says booking from an online travel agency or other third party puts refund responsibility with their booking agent and not the airline.

strickerj August 27, 2020

@OZFLYER86: That doesn't make sense... If the airline canceled flights both DOT regulations and their on CoC (which is already lopsided in their favor) say they owe refunds, then how can anyone justify them not refunding? I guarantee if I fell on hard times and decided to cancel my non-refundable ticket, I'd receive no sympathy from them, just the boilerplate "this is the contract you agreed to". So, to them I say the same: "this is the contract you agreed to."

OZFLYER86 August 24, 2020

absolutely no airlines should be giving refunds on any tickets. We want them all to survive, otherwise ticket prices will go through the roof.

drvannostren August 23, 2020

I wasn't gonna comment cuz there's not really anything too new here. But this last line made me laugh. "while the carrier says booking from an online travel agency or other third party puts refund responsibility with their booking agent and not the airline." Uhhhh...ok, so I ask expedia for a refund. They say only based on your policies. So I ask them, then on behalf of me, they ask you, then you say no again? What difference has it made? Or are they just saying that Expedia should somehow refund all these tickets and then hold credits with those airlines? Doesn't really make a ton of sense either.