By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. government has completed 10 airline investigations into delayed or withheld passenger refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic and will take enforcement action in coming weeks, a Transportation Department official told Reuters on Sunday.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday disclosed the passenger refund probes were complete and said 10 additional airline probes remain ongoing.
"We'll collaborate with airlines when they're ready to take steps that are positive and proactive, whether that's improvements in pay that are helping with hiring or flexibility in customer service," Buttigieg told Fox News Sunday. "We're also going to enforce passenger and consumer rights."
Neither Buttigieg nor the department identified the airlines. Buttigieg said the government has been investigating airlines "failing to provide refunds to passengers after they got stuck with cancellations." He said the probes are "to make sure that the consumers and passengers are protected."
In September 2021, the U.S. Transportation Department (USDOT) said it had 18 pending investigations over complaints that airlines failed to provide timely refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines for America, an industry group, said on Sunday, "We look forward to working with the federal government to identify and resolve shared challenges to minimize disruptions and ensure safe, seamless travel."
Air Canada in November agreed to a $4.5 million settlement to resolve a USDOT investigation into claims that thousands of air passenger refunds were delayed.
In June 2021, USDOT said it was seeking a $25.5 million fine against Air Canada over the carrier's failure to provide timely refunds, alleging the airline had a no-refund policy in violation of U.S. law for more than a year.
USDOT has said it plans to issue rules on refunds for consumers who are unable to travel due to government restrictions. Existing regulations do not address refund eligibility under special circumstances, such as government-imposed travel restrictions.
Last month, Buttigieg met with airline chief executives to try to ensure summer flight schedules are followed after a spate of cancellations. Airlines have canceled or delayed thousands of flights, angering consumers. Airlines have blamed air traffic control staffing issues at the Federal Aviation Administration for much of the problem.
Buttigieg said: "We've seen some improvement over the course of the summer, but still not an acceptable level in terms of performance, cancellation and delays."
(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonEditing by Matthew Lewis)