(WSVN) - If you had an airline flight canceled during the pandemic, but didn’t get a refund, you might be in luck. The feds are now going after airlines that wouldn’t give people their money back. 7’s Karen Hensel investigates.

For now, Gabriel Carvalho visits with his 75-year-old mom over FaceTime. He lives in Miami, and she is more than 4,000 miles away in Portugal.

Gabriel booked a flight in February of 2020 to spend his birthday with his mom.

Gabriel Carvalho, trouble getting flight refund: “I was supposed to arrive there in April.”

But the birthday celebration turned into a birthday bummer when the global pandemic grounded his flight.

Gabriel Carvalho: “As everybody knows, in March everything was closed due to the pandemic, and they canceled my flight.”

Gabriel booked his ticket through Expedia. He says the travel website told him, based on the airline’s policy, they could not offer a refund, only a voucher for his $607 ticket.

And, he would have to use it within the next six months.

Gabriel Carvalho “They said, ‘Hey, no, it’s six months.’ I said, ‘Hey, guys, so I want my money back. I cannot accept that.'”

Gabriel says he got nowhere with the airline, but after months of wrangling, Expedia emailed him: a refund was on the way, but said, “Due to COVID-19,” it “…might take longer than usual. Please allow up to 12 weeks.”

That refund never came.

Gabriel Carvalho: “I’m not blaming you for not being able to take the flight. I know it was not your fault. I’m just asking for my money back. I don’t know how many people are in the same situation as me. Maybe lots of people lost their money.”

Many did, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A recently released report says the DOT received: “…a flood of complaints about carriers’ failures to provide refunds…”

Blane Workie, attorney, U.S. Department of Transportation: “The department has made it very clear that airlines have an obligation to refund passengers if they cancel a flight or if they significantly change a flight. The consumer did not get what they paid for, the consumer is entitled to the money back.”

In the five years before the pandemic, there was an average of more than 17,000 consumer complaints about airlines. In 2020, those numbers went sky high, to 102,561 complaints, the highest number on record, and most involved refunds.

Blane Workie: “The initial months after COVID, with the volume of complaints the airlines were receiving, it was difficult for them to process it in a timely manner.”

“That’s because in the early months of the pandemic, air travel plummeted to historically low levels. This is what a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport looked like when our cameras were here in April 2020 — a ghost town. Compare that to what things look like now, and it’s clear people are flying again.

Blane Workie: “At this point, there is no excuse. The money needs to have been returned to consumers, and when we receive complaints, we act on it.”

That action includes 18 airlines still under investigation for refund issues, including one U.S. based carrier.

The feds also say at least nine airlines have now changed their policies to make refunds easier, and they have gotten thousands of passengers their money back, including Gabriel.

Gabriel Carvalho: “I feel like I was financing them. Oh, they’re going through a hard time. Me too, everyone is, so it’s my money. After DOT contacted them, then everything changed.”

Change Gabriel is grateful for, as the feds take action, saying some airline practices simply won’t fly anymore.

U.S. Department of Transportation Report on Airline Ticket Refunds

To file a complaint against an airline/travel agent, click here.


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