According to officials, the United States has ordered Tata Group-owned Air India to pay a staggering $121.5 million as refunds and $1.4 million as a penalty for extreme delays in giving passengers their money back after flights were cancelled or changed, mostly during the pandemic. As per the US Department of Transportation, Air India is one of the six airlines that have agreed to pay back a total of more than $600 million.
Furthermore, according to the media reports, officials stated that the Department of Transportation guideline, which requires airlines to legally return tickets in case of flight cancellation or change, conflicts with Air India’s “refund on request” policy. Notably, before Air India was purchased by the Tatas, there were instances where the company was asked to pay the refund and agreed to pay the penalty.
“Regardless of its stated refund policy, Air India didn’t actually issue refunds on time. The extreme delay in refunds caused consumers to suffer significant harm,” states the US Department of Transportation. Apart from Air India, the other airlines in the list are Frontier, TAP Portugal, Aero Mexico, EI AI, and Avianca.
Reportedly, a $222 million refund and a $2.2 million fine were imposed on Frontier. Similarly, TAP Portugal has to pay $126.5 million as a refund and $1.1 million in fines; Avianca will pay $76.6 million as a refund and $750,000 in fines; EI AI will pay $61.9 million as a refund and $900,000 in fines; and Aero Mexico will pay $13.6 million as a refund and $900,00 as fines.
The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection of the Department, US, has now assessed USD8.1 million in civil penalties in 2022, the highest amount ever issued in a single year, according to a media statement. “If an airline cancels or significantly alters a flight to, from, or within the US and the passenger does not want to accept the offered alternative, the airline and ticket agents are legally required to refund the customer,” said US Transportation Secretary.
(Source – The Indian Express) An official investigation revealed that Air India processed more than half of the 1,900 refund complaints submitted to the Department of Transportation for flights that were cancelled or significantly changed in more than 100 days. However, when passengers who made complaints and asked for reimbursements directly with the airline were processed, Air India was unable to give the agency any information.