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DOT Warning Says Airlines Must Give You a Refund for Canceling Your Flight

The Department of Transportation (DOT0 issued an enforcement notice on Friday stating that any airline that refuses to refund your ticket after your flight is canceled is breaking the rules and it must change its business practices ASAP... or else.  

Back in early March, Thrillist started documenting which airlines were waiving change and cancellation fees and offering airline credits/vouchers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Obviously a lot has changed since then, and now airlines themselves are being forced to cancel the flights. Thing is, some airlines -- like United, for example -- are facing criticism from consumers now for sticking to that same credit/voucher guarantee with flights they themselves are canceling. 

So daddy DOT has just stepped in to set the record straight. The department wants to make sure you know that -- by law -- airlines need to give you your money back when they cancel your flights (if you don't want flight credit, of course). The DOT's enforcement notice stated that "foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier." 

It's one thing if you cancel your own flight during the pandemic and want to take advantage of the waived cancelation fees; In that case, an airline is allowed to offer only credits or vouchers. But some airlines aren't playing nice when they cancel flights themselves, and the DOT is planning to enforce the existing refund law aggressively.

Because COVID-19 is having an "unprecedented impact on air travel," as stated in the enforcement notice, the DOT is giving airlines "an opportunity to become compliant before taking further action." In other words, to quote Twin Peaks, airlines need to fix their hearts or die. 

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Ruby Anderson is a News Writer for Thrillist.