Delta Air Lines has agreed to a settlement of a class-action lawsuit over refunds owed to customers for flights it canceled in parts of 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Atlanta-based Delta doesn’t admit wrongdoing in the settlement preliminarily approved by a federal judge June 2. Documents filed in the case state that there are thousands of passengers in the proposed settlement class.
The airline has agreed to pay cash refunds plus interest to certain customers whose flights were canceled by the airline from March 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021. To qualify under the settlement agreement, passengers must have requested refunds according to Delta’s Customer Care database or refund database but got flight credits instead and still had unused credits as of Jan. 13 of this year.
The total value of the settlement is not immediately known. The settlement also says Delta will pay about $2.3 million in attorneys fees. Attorneys for the plaintiffs include former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.
Airlines are obligated to issue refunds to passengers who request them when the flights are canceled by the airline. The pandemic in its earliest weeks led to a near total shutdown of air travel in the U.S., and states and local governments restricted the operations of businesses and schools to try to curtail the coronavirus.
Delta, for its part, said since the start of 2020 it has refunded “more than 11 million bookings totaling $6 billion.”
Yet some customers complained that Delta canceled their flights but would not give them refunds.
According to deadlines set in the settlement, email notifications and postcard notices will be sent starting this month through Aug. 28 to those who may be in the settlement class.
Those who qualify and want to get cash refunds for their unused credits plus 7% interest — or credits plus 7% interest credit — must submit a claim form by Sept. 15.
Frustration with airlines over refunds generated thousands of customer complaints early in the pandemic.
Multiple Delta customers filed lawsuits, which were consolidated into a single class action case in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
In the case, plaintiff Angela Dusko said she bought four roundtrip tickets for $2,783.24 to travel from Helena, Montana to Cancun, Mexico from March 27 to April 3, 2020.
On March 25, she was notified by Delta that the flight to Cancun was canceled. The airline rebooked her and her family on a flight departing March 28, and Dusko called Delta to say she did not want to be rebooked and instead wanted a refund.
“Delta’s customer service representative denied Ms. Dusko’s request for a full refund,” and instead said she was only entitled to flight vouchers, the lawsuit says.
The case alleges Delta offered many of its passengers whose flights it canceled “only two options” — to rebook or to get a travel credit.
But many consumers were also facing severe financial challenges from the pandemic, as restaurants, shops, hotels and other businesses shut down and put people out of work. Some of those whose flights were canceled needed the money back to pay rent and cover their bills.
Delta and other carriers, meanwhile, got billions of dollars in federal relief funding. The funds were intended to allow airlines to continue to pay their workforce — though Delta still slashed tens of thousands of people from its payroll via early retirements, voluntary buyouts and unpaid leaves of absence.
And travel disruptions continued with outbreaks of COVID-19 variants. Last year, Delta extended the validity of all unused flight credits to allow rebooking until the end of 2023, for travel through 2024.
The settlement does not bring relief for passengers who canceled their trips because of pandemic restrictions, health concerns, canceled events or other reasons, and only got flight credits. Federal rules say consumers are entitled to refunds if the airline canceled the flight — but not necessarily if customers cancel their trips.
Delta refund settlement
Notices will be sent to Delta customers who may be eligible for refunds in a class action settlement.
Those eligible are:
- U.S. citizens who bought with dollars a non-refundable ticket on a flight scheduled to depart March 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, that Delta canceled, and
- Requested a refund as reflected in Delta’s Customer Care or Refund databases, and did not receive a refund but instead received a credit, and
- Had an unused credit as of January 13, 2023
Those eligible must submit a claim form by Sept. 15 to receive a cash refund plus 7% of the original ticket amount, or a credit plus 7% interest credit. The settlement benefit will not be paid until after any appeals are resolved following final approval scheduled for an Oct. 5 hearing.
Those who do nothing will get no settlement benefit and give up their rights to sue over the issues in the case.