The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) mandated that TAP Air Portugal, and five other airlines, pay millions in fines and refunds due to delays and cancellations resulting from the onset of the Covid’19 pandemic.
Accordingly, DOT has issued a USD$1.1 million fine to TAP Air Portugal for delaying refunding more than USD$123 million to affected travelers at the height of the pandemic.
The DOT’s actions aim to ensure that the six carriers will refund “hundreds of thousands of passengers who had their flights canceled or significantly changed,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has affirmed.
The six targeted airlines include state owned TAP Air Portugal, Frontier Airlines (USA), Tata Group (India), Avianca (Colombia), El Al Airline (Israel), Aeromexico (Mexico). US Frontier, and India’s Tata Group received the most significant fines.
TAP Air Portugal has appealed that it had to lay off a large majority of its staff, directly affecting the ability to refund passengers, but that it has since paid all refunds to its customers. As a result, the DOT has reduced the fine by 50%, it has been reported.
The actions against the six airlines will collectively amount to more than $600 million in refunds due cancellations or “significantly changed flights.”
These fines are part of an “ongoing work to ensure that Americans receive the refunds they are owed,” the DOT has stated.
Additional penalties are expected this year involving airlines “for extreme delays in providing funds,” DOT has warned.
“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,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has stated.
So far, the US aviation consumer protection office has assessed USD$8.1 million in fines in 2022, the largest amount ever issued in a single year. Meanwhile, Buttigieg has warned, “We have more enforcement actions and investigations underway.”
According to the US law, “It is unlawful for an airline to refuse refunds and instead provide vouchers to such consumers.” Airlines and ticket agents are obliged to refund passengers when an air carrier cancels or makes significant changes to a scheduled flight to, from, and within the US, even when passengers do not accept the alternatives offered.