American Airlines Is Openly Defying DOT Refund Regulations

a plane on the runway
Photo: Jonathan Tallman

American Airlines is Openly Defying DOT Refund Regulations

We recently wrote about the rules for airline refunds.  Those regulations dictate that an airline must process a credit card refund within 7 business day.  The Department of Transportation even went so far as to put an enforcement notice out to airlines to remind them of its refund policies.  Delta and other airlines have class action lawsuits filed already for alleged violations of these rules.

Well, I’m now having trouble getting my refund.  Over 14 days ago, I contacted American Airlines to request a refund.  My husband and I had a flight to Miami for the end of this week.  American canceled our flight.  Under AA’s policy for tickets originally issued before April 8, 2020, that cancelation warrants a full refund if we decide to not want to take another flight.  Due to the uncertainty of the outbreak, we decided to cancel the flight.

AA Customer Relations

I received a refund denial email today claiming that we voluntarily canceled the flight.  Immediately, I called AA and inquired about the response to our refund request.  I mentioned that the agent told me the flight was refundable at the time of cancelation.  I also mentioned DOT regulations require a full refund for canceled flights.  Under AA’s policy noted above and DOT regulations, the flight was fully refundable.

The customer service representative informed me that even if it was refundable, it is taking a long time to get refunds.  Again, I noted the policy laid out by DOT that requires a processed refund within 7 business days.  As of today, over two weeks after canceling, the refund isn’t processed.

The agent called another customer relations agent.  The agent informed her that we have to wait up to 10 more days for the refund to be processed.  That means that it will be over three weeks by the time the refund will be processed since we originally canceled it.

American Airlines Told Us To Be Flexible

The customer service representative then old us to be “flexible” because AA is going through a hard time.  However, this is not a matter of a few days.  AA was politely reminded of that rule and in response told us to be flexible.  That means the airline is openly ignoring federal government regulations.

I am submitting a complaint to the DOT.  I’m doing that because it’s important to hold the airlines accountable during this time.  It’s interesting we got an email denying the refund, but as soon as we highlighted DOT regulations and AA’s own policy, the agent told us the email was sent in error.

When Do Airlines Give Flexibility?

It’s interesting for AA to tell a customer to be flexible, when they are so inflexible on a day-to-day basis.  In the normal course of their business, AA doesn’t take the time to be flexible when its customers need them to.  In fact, AA eliminated their bereavement leave policy for passengers several years ago.  And when passengers are stuck at a destination due to weather or mechanical issues they don’t exactly jump to try to help clients with dire needs.  It doesn’t matter what your reason for needing flexibility (a job loss, death in the family, etc.), there are few circumstances where AA will be flexible with you.

Bottom Line

I’d like to see if this is a line given to other people while dealing with AA.  Has an AA customer service representative told you to be “flexible”?  Two customer service representatives used the same line, and the reality has been that we have waited more than double the amount of time required for a refund.  So one has to believe this is AA’s current policy.  If that is the case, I hope DOT holds them accountable for openly defying regulations.  Other airlines have class action lawsuits against them, but I haven’t seen one yet for American.  These regulations are in place to protect consumers, and that’s an important thing to stand by right now.

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  1. @ Jonathan — Really? Clickbait of the year. Give AA a break. They are doing the right thing by customers, unlike AC and LH group. Pick on an airlines that deserve it.

    1. @Gene – No airline deserves a break. The law is clear and so are their terms and conditions. Airlines never go out of their way for consumers nor do they let you cancel free of any penalties when you’re going through a rough patch. They still expect you to uphold your side of the contract or they will charge you with tons of fees, baggage, seat, change, cancellations, name change, etc… So Airlines need to equally comply. No one is above the law, especially not a major corporation. I don’t see how this is click bait, the author provided his own experience and cited to AA employees remarks. Don’t be one of those AApologists.

  2. @ Luis — I agree with most of what you are saying, but I fail to see the point of filing a DOT complaint over a 2 week delay in receiving a refund. The complaint won’t even be processed before the refund is issued. I seriously doubt Jonathan will die from waiting 2 weeks.

    1. I think the fact that he got a denial in writing might be the reason for the outrage. If I got a denial and then told by another AA employee that I had to wait an additional two weeks, you bet I would be pretty upset too.

  3. The 7 day rule applies in normal times. When airlines are processing hundreds of thousands of refund claims at the same time, it’s inevitable that it will take longer. Filing a DOT complaint is an over-the-top reaction.

    1. We’re talking 30-45 days before I will actually have the refund in hand. That’s not reasonable. This never would have happened if AA wasn’t shrewd and didn’t try to deny it in the first place, which is the crux of the issue that you appear to have glossed over. This is a circumstance where it’s exactly why DOT has a portal for these issues.

  4. Lets not forget they have used 97% of their surplus cash on stock buybacks and are now running on our taxpayer money. Therefore, if we have given free money from our pockets (in the form of mostly grants/aid), then we have every right to ask for a refund per the mandated timelines. The consumer needs the cash too in these times and the consumer is asking money back for a product that is not delivered.

    1. @ Amgela — See TCW’s comment. You don’t click “refund” and then have an instantaneous bank deposit. That isn’t how it works. Be realistic, and give the employees a break. The average employee will suffer far worse from COVID-19 than the average customer.

      1. @gene I think you’re confusing actually processing the refund and getting the refund. Keep in mind that it has been weeks and it still has not been processed. Now I am being told another 10 days before it is PROCESSED. That’s not including the time it takes to get back to the bank, which could be another 7-10 business days. So at this point we could be talking about 30-45 days before a refund is back in my account. That’s not reasonable, and the regulation is there for a reason. This is exactly why.

      2. Last year I was weary of traveling to Miami, FL for a wedding due to hurricane Damien. I called AA to explore my options a few days before travel. Did AA issue me a refund? No. They said you can either a) fly as planned or b) change your flight in accordance to our travel advisory. Clearly I was going for a wedding (that took place with big changes) and changing the flight wasn’t going to do me much good because a second wedding was not going to happen. The airlines have time and time again showed no willingness to cooperate with customers. They keep cutting services and hiking prices. They operate on their terms. I don’t see why we should do it any differently. Let us not forget that MILLIONS of Americans are currently unemployed. Others cannot get a PPP loans because the funds were drained. Airlines, however, are being protected by their own set of relief. So no, the airline (and their employees) get not pity from me. They must be treated equally.. I care about the regulations that the government has implemented. By law they must process refunds within 7 days. That is what I expect them to do, just like they expect me to abide by their terms and conditions and applicable laws and regulations. The DOT has come out and said that airlines must continue to process refunds in accordance with the law. If they don’t like that they should spend their millions of dollars lobbying for the correct set of regulations and get it done the correct way. Until then, the airline should refund passengers as required. Most Americans need the money more than big corporations, like AA, do.

  5. When you buy something the debit is processed in seconds. But a credit takes weeks? In 2020? It doesn’t not required days or weeks.

  6. AA told me is wasn’t a law so they didn’t have to give me a refund. Basically to go pound sand. This happened on 6/10/2020.

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