On Monday, US federal officials announced that a total of six airlines had agreed to issue refunds of over $600 million to people who had had their trips canceled or delayed significantly because of the pandemic.
This list of carriers include the El Al airlines in Israel and the American Frontier Airlines. According to the Department of Transportation, a $7 million fine had also been imposed on these airlines.
This was due to the delay in issuing refunds, which was in violation of the consumer-protection rules.
Majority of the complaints about refunds had been associated with the largest airlines in the US, but they were able to avoid fines.
An official also disclosed that it was only Frontier that was under investigation for potential fines and not any other airline.
The agency received thousands of complaints from consumers who were unable to get refunds for the flights that were canceled in early 2020 when the pandemic first hit.
It was the top complaint. Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary, said that people purchase a ticket, they want to reach their destination safely and affordably and their job is to ensure accountability in airlines.
According to the department, a penalty of $2.2 million has been imposed on Frontier Airlines and it has to issue refunds worth $222 million.
The government also said that Frontier had tried to reduce refunds by making changes to what defines a significant delay.
It had also shut down its online system designed for processing credits back in 2020 for 15 days. As for El Al, it will have to pay a penalty of $900,000 and refunds of $61.9 million.
Other airlines that will also pay include Air India that has a penalty of $1.4 million and refunds of $121.5 million and TAP Portugal will pay a penalty of $1.1 million and refunds of $126.5 million.
Likewise Aeromexico will pay a fine of $900,000 and its refunds amount to $13.6 million, while Avianca of Colombia will pay a penalty of $750,000 and refunds of $76.8 million.
El Al’s troubles
Even before the pandemic hit, El Al had been facing financial problems and with international travel shutting down due to COVID-19, its problems only worsened.
There were frequent complaints about the airline in terms of issuing refunds and some even complained that it was impossible to get in touch.
A letter was sent by the Israel Consumer Council to El Al back in April in which they demanded that the airline address the numerous consumer complaints, including COVID-related refunds.
On Tuesday, a statement from El Al said that the airline had returned the money to customers and they had agreed to a ‘symbolic fine’ with the US Department of Transportation after a long conversation.
The airline also said that the delay in its ability to issue customer refunds had been because of the discussions about government aid being dragged on.