With thousands of flights canceled due to the coronavirus, passengers have turned to airlines expecting a refund. But some carriers, including United Airlines and British Airways, have resisted or refused refund requests.

U.S. regulations clearly state that passengers are entitled to a refund when a flight is cancelled. Today, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings published a notice to remind carriers operating flights to, from or within the United States that “passengers should be refunded promptly when their scheduled flights are cancelled or significantly delayed.”

The notice continues:

Carriers have a longstanding obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier. The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions). The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.

Some airlines have modified their contracts of carriage to deny refunds resulting from coronavirus-related cancellations. The notice states that the DOT views such contract changes as “a violation of the carriers’ obligation that could subject the carrier to an enforcement action.”

Airlines who have already refused refunds for cancelled flights have been ordered to contact affected passengers “in a timely manner” and notify them of the option to receive a cash refund.

Passengers should note that refunds for non-refundable tickets are not required if the flight is scheduled to operate as normal. This notice only applies to canceled or significantly delayed flights.

To read the full text of the enforcement notice, visit the DOT website.

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