Do the rules even matter when there is no enforcement action? For many travelers the answer appears to be a resounding “no” as they seek refunds from flights cancelled over the past few months.
Canada has been a particularly challenging environment for consumers, as the government ruled its airlines could refuse refunds on canceled trips, delivering future travel credits instead. But the US Department of Transportation sees things differently. Flights to or from the USA are covered by DOT and the Agency reminded airlines of their obligation to provide refunds in early April, but also made it clear that enforcement would be very limited.
And so customers are stuck. The airlines owe them money and are refusing to pay.
The DOT Complaint option
The DOT operates a website allowing consumers to register their complaints, but the Agency also acknowledges that the goal of the site is not really to solve the problems. Instead, it is about tracking trends:
Complaints from consumers help DOT spot problem areas and trends in the airline industry. Complaints can lead to enforcement action against an airline when a serious violation of the law has occurred. Complaints may also be the basis for rulemaking actions.
And, while airlines are obligated to respond to complaints filed through that channel there is no obligation to fix the problems nor any public record of the incidents.
Moreover, while in the COVID-19 era the commitment to enforcement is even further reduced:
Specifically, the Aviation Enforcement Office will refrain from pursuing an enforcement action against a carrier that provided passengers vouchers for future travel