United Airlines faces two federal class actions related to
its handling of refund requests during the Covid-19 crisis.
Both cases were filed Monday in the Northern District of
Illinois, where United’s home base of Chicago is located.
The carrier has faced scrutiny over the past month for
changing its refund policy repeatedly. Under Transportation Department
regulations, a flyer is entitled to a refund if the airline cancels his or her
flight and the customer chooses not to rebook or accept a voucher.
One of the cases was brought by Vermont resident John Compo,
who paid $1,051 for a roundtrip ticket to New Zealand for travel beginning
April 6. After United emailed Compo on April 3 that his flight had been canceled,
Compo requested a refund via phone and online but was denied, the suit says.
The other case was brought by Minnesota resident Jacob
Rudolph, who spent $1,521 on three tickets from Hilton Head, S.C., to
Minneapolis for travel on April 4. The flight was eventually canceled, the
lawsuit says. However, over the course
of March 31 to April 2, United refused Rudolph’s refund requests.
The Compo lawsuit references United’s changing refund policy.
Until March 6, United’s stated policy was to provide refunds for travel delayed
more than two hours. Over the next eight days, the carrier changed its policy
three times, ultimately landing on one in which international ticket holders
could only get a refund if travel was delayed more than six hours. The policy
also stated that United would provide only a voucher until 12 months after the
originally scheduled flight. Only then would unused voucher holders be able to
get a refund.
“In other words, rather than make its customers whole in
this time of need by refunding them monies they paid for flights they will
never take, United has elected to force its customers to provide it with a
one-year, interest free loan,” the suit says.
The Rudolph case also references United’s repeated policy
changes. (United’s latest policy has done away with the 12-month wait period.
The carrier now says it will refund tickets to for flyers whose domestic or
international travel has been delayed more than six hours.)
In the Compo suit, the attorneys note that on April 3, the
Department of Transportation issued an enforcement order stating that airlines
continue to be required to issue prompt refunds when flights are canceled.
The suits accuse United of fraud, unjust enrichment and
violations of state consumer protection acts. They ask the court to require
United to refund ticket holders, pay interest and to pay additional punitive
The Compo case defines eligible class action participants as
anyone in the U.S. who purchased United tickets on or after Feb. 29 and either
sought to cancel their flights or had their flights canceled. The Rudolph suit
defines eligible participants as anyone in the U.S. who purchased United
tickets for flights from March 1 and who were either refused a refund or who
will seek a refund in the future.
In an email, United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said that since
the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the carrier has implemented new policies
allowing customers to rebook travel or cancel trips and receive a voucher
without a fee.
“Eligible travelers on domestic flights — and customers
with international tickets — can request a refund on United.com or may call
our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to
their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United
schedule reductions related to Covid-19,” she said.
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