British Airways was fined $1.1 million by the US Department of Transportation after it determined that the airline had failed to offer passengers timely refunds for canceled flights to and from the US during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Customers were unable to submit refund requests on BA’s website from March to November 2020, and were unable to reach customer service over the phone for several months during 2020 because the carrier failed to operate its phone lines adequately, the DOT said in a consent order filed Thursday.
Refunds emerged as a contentious topic at the height of the pandemic as ever-changing and often contradictory travel restrictions upended the aviation industry. Cash-starved airlines tried to steer passengers toward rebooking or accepting credits for future flights, which the DOT called out in the consent order.
The DOT said it has received more than 1,200 complaints since March 2020, claiming BA didn’t offer timely refunds for canceled or significantly disrupted flights to or from the US.
“We view British Airways’ practice to be unfair because consumers were subjected to extreme delays in obtaining refunds and some may have been effectively denied refunds,” the DOT said.
The DOT said it would reduce $550,000 from the penalty because BA did refund more than $40 million to customers with non-refundable flights to or from the US in 2020 and 2021.
BA “acted lawfully at all times” during the pandemic and allowed customers whose flights were canceled to either rebook flights on different dates or claim a refund, the carrier said in a statement. BA said it had issued more than 5 million refunds since the pandemic began.