US Department of Transportation fines United Airlines for failing to issue timely refunds

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined United Airlines $350,000 for failing to make prompt refunds to consumers. The Department also cited the airline for filing inaccurate reports of its mishandled baggage and oversales, and failing to file timely reports of incidents involving animals in flight. DOT did not assess a fine for these violations because United disclosed the reporting errors to DOT and took corrective action.

“When passengers are owed a refund, they have the right to expect the airline to act promptly and give them their money back,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We also expect airlines to file accurate and timely consumer reports so that passengers will have the information they need when choosing an airline.”

Airlines are required to process refund requests within seven days of receipt of a complete request when the ticket is purchased by credit card. Refunds must be made within 20 days for tickets purchased by cash or check. United’s customer service commitment, posted on its website, pledged to comply with these standards. However, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office, during an on-site inspection at the airline’s headquarters, found that between March and May of 2012, United failed to process over 9,000 refund requests in a timely manner.

In addition, United underreported the number of mishandled baggage reports it received from passengers between January and October 2011 and the number of passengers it bumped, both voluntarily and involuntarily, for each quarter of 2011 from flights on which it sold more tickets than the number of available seats. The underreporting made United’s ranking in these categories seem better than it actually was. Also, during 2012 and 2013, United failed to file timely reports for a few incidents involving the death, injury or loss of animals on its flights.

Today’s consent order is available at www.regulations.gov, docket DOT-OST-2013-0004.

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