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A United Airlines passenger filed a class-action lawsuit against the embattled U.S. carrier in Chicago federal court this week over its apparent refusal to issue ticket refunds despite a wave of coronavirus-related flight cancellations.
The passenger, a police officer from Minnesota named Jacob Rudolph, purchased three plane tickets from Minneapolis to Hilton Head, South Carolina, in January for $1,521. The lawsuit alleges United denied a refund request when the April 4 flight was canceled, informing Rudolph that he could either rebook his flight or receive a ticket credit.
“Plaintiff requested a refund for three tickets on a cancelled (sic) flight and was entitled to a refund,” the lawsuit says. “But like so many other passengers, United denied that request. United has engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct through its policy to refuse refunds, limiting and forcing customers into a rebooked flight or travel voucher instead of returning their money.”
Rudolph’s lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of other passengers who were denied cash refunds. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages from United and coverage of legal fees.
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U.S. authorities have enacted widespread travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders, forcing airlines to make massive cuts to their planned flight capacity in the coming weeks. United has cut about 80 percent of its capacity in April due to the steep decline in travel.
A United representative declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit since the complaint has not yet been served. The official noted that United has enacted new policies to “give our customers flexibility” during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Passengers can automatically rebook eligible trips to an alternative flight for no fee or request an electronic travel certificate, so they can choose a flight in the future,” the airline said in a statement. “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.”
“We are proud of the role our company and our employees play during this crisis and continue to operate to nearly every domestic destination as well as six international markets across the globe including our partner hubs,” the statement added.
Congressional lawmakers recently passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus-related stimulus package that included financial support for U.S. airlines, including $25 billion in funds to assist U.S. airlines with payment of employee salaries and benefits, $25 billion toward loans and additional tax relief measures.
In a letter to 11 major airlines last month, a group of nine Democratic U.S. senators demanded that passengers received ticket refunds for canceled flights.
“We believe your company has a moral responsibility to provide real refunds, not travel vouchers, to consumers, and to support State Department efforts to repatriate any American citizens trying to come home,” Sens. Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Sheldon Whitehouse and Bob Casey said.