Posted on November 23, 2022.
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered TAP Air Portugal and five other airlines to pay millions in fines and refunds for delays and cancellations resulting from the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Accordingly, DOT TAP has fined Air Portugal US$1.1 million for delaying refunding more than US$123 million to affected travelers at the height of the pandemic.
The DOT’s actions aim to ensure the six airlines “refund hundreds of thousands of passengers whose flights have been canceled or significantly changed,” US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has confirmed.
The six target airlines include state-owned TAP Air Portugal, Frontier Airlines (USA), Tata Group (India), Avianca (Colombia), El Al Airline (Israel) and Aeromexico (Mexico). US Frontier and India’s Tata Group received the highest fines.
TAP Air Portugal appealed that it had to lay off much of its staff, which directly impacted its ability to refund passengers, but has since paid all refunds to its customers. As a result, the DOT reduced the fine by 50%, it has been reported.
The lawsuits against the six airlines will collectively total more than $600 million in refunds due to cancellations or “significantly changed flights.”
These fines are part of an “ongoing work to ensure Americans receive the refunds owed to them,” the DOT has said.
Additional penalties are expected this year, involving airlines “for extreme delays in making funds available,” DOT has warned.
“When a flight is cancelled, passengers who request a refund should be repaid immediately. If that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travelers and get passengers’ money back,” said US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.
So far, the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency has imposed fines of $8.1 million for 2022, the largest amount ever imposed in a single year. Meanwhile, Buttigieg has warned: “We have further enforcement actions and investigations ongoing.”
Under US law, “It is unlawful for an airline to refuse refunds and instead provide coupons to such consumers.” Airlines and ticket agents are required to refund passengers when an airline cancels a scheduled flight to, from, and within the United States or makes significant changes to a scheduled flight, even if passengers do not accept the alternatives offered.