DOT to Allow Airlines to Pause Flights to Five Percent of Destinations

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued two air service notices today, which are destined to impact both airlines and customers. One addresses airlines’ problematic policies regarding ticket refunds, and the other lessens the number of points that airlines are currently required to serve.

A new Notice of Adjustments to Service Obligations provides for incremental adjustments to begin being made to the service obligations originally imposed on airlines on April 7, 2020, as a condition of their eligibility to receive money under the CARES Act.

Fox News reported on the announcement that the DOT will now permit airlines to cease flying to as much as five percent of the destinations that they had previously served. It’s a move that’s intended to help provide some relief for commercial aviation companies that continue to hemorrhage capital while the detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic persist. Through the CARES Act, $10 billion was made available to bolster the airline industry in the month of April alone.

Airlines will need to make their applications to the DOT by submitting a list of airports that they wish to remove from their service rosters no later than May 18, 2020. In reviewing these requests, the DOT said it will ensure every U.S. community that was served by one of these airlines prior to March 1, 2020, will still be served by at least one covered air carrier.

The other part of today’s DOT announcement represented a second Enforcement Notice to airlines concerning the agency’s order to provide customer ticket refunds for flights that were forced to cancel due to the pandemic. The document is intended to ensure that ticket agents and air carriers are complying with previously-issued consumer protection requirements. It also offers answers to some common questions customers have regarding refunds and can help them to understand their rights.

“The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers, and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines’ policies and practices conform to DOT’s refund rules,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao. “The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”

While the DOT typically handles around 1,500 air travel complaints and inquiries in a single month, March and April 2020 produced over 25,000 air travel service complaints and inquiries, with a major percentage concerning refunds.

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