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Blumenthal Demands DOT Secure Consumers' Travel Refunds as Complaints & Flights Cancellations Soar

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Amid record consumer complaints about airline travel refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing flight cancellations, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) urged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure current laws are enforced so customers receive the full compensation they deserve.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the travelling public have endured countless flight delays and cancellations, often at no fault of their own, and incurred additional expenses as a result,” Blumenthal wrote to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “U.S. DOT must rigorously enforce existing laws and ensure consumers are receiving the full refunds to which they are entitled.” 

Airlines are required by law to provide refunds for flights they cancel or delay significantly. Yet since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer complaints, particularly about refunds, have skyrocketed. In 2020, DOT received 102,561 consumer complaints—an increase of 568 percent from the previous year—and another 22,357 complaints in the first half of 2021. Eighty-four percent of the complaints received over the 18 month period concerned refunds. “While U.S. DOT has taken significant strides to help consumers secure refunds thus far, it must continue to be vigilant,” Blumenthal continued.

With nearly 20,000 flights canceled since December 24, 2021, alone, Blumenthal emphasized the need for his Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights in helping ensure adequate airline refunds and compensation for additional costs consumers incur from delayed and cancelled flights, writing: “Stranded consumers have been stuck footing the bill – paying for lodging, meals, additional transportation, and more. Airlines are not currently required to compensate consumers for these additional expenses…While this legislation is pending, U.S. DOT should be seeking full compensation for consumers’ costs when pursuing refunds.”

Blumenthal requested more information about the process used by DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) in handling consumer complaints, stressing the important role the agency plays in ensuring consumers get their refunds: “Because state attorneys general are largely prevented from taking action to address consumer complaints under the Airline Deregulation Act, OACP is consumers’ primary line of defense when seeking recourse from airlines.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.