'COVID-19 has caused unprecedented airline industry disruption, but that does not let them off the hook for record consumer complaints'

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Airline passengers have no greater advocate than the U.S. Department of Transportation, which, since the outset of the unprecedented COVID-19 public health emergency, has worked overtime to keep America’s national airspace functioning and safe ("4% of normal passenger volume near the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in April, and 18% this month, airlines and airports are struggling. So are many of their customers. That’s why, on April 3rd, DOT issued an enforcement notice that airlines are obligated to issue prompt refunds for cancelled or significantly delayed flights. 

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented airline industry disruption, but that does not let them off the hook for record consumer complaints. Airlines need passengers to keep flying. So in response to DOT’s actions, and to avoid further alienating customers, improvements are being made in refund processes. The airlines are also working with DOT, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to refine COVID-19 safety protocols to make passengers and aviation workers safer.  

The urgent need to protect passengers from COVID-19 and make them feel financially secure from flight cancellations and delays, cannot wait for years-long rulemaking or investigations. 

That’s why DOT has already taken pro-consumer action on refunds. And that’s why, in the past month, DOT has distributed nearly 100 million cloth facial coverings to airports and aviation workers.

I have personally spoken with all the major airlines to reinforce the Department’s consumer protection rules and to emphasize the importance of consistently following public health requirements for the welfare of passengers and crew. These actions may not go far enough to suit some partisan critics. Nevertheless, any voice keeping the heat on for consumers is welcome.

Elaine L. Chao; secretary, Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.

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