An order was issued today, August 30, 2013, by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) against United Airlines for a fine totaling $350,000 for failing to make prompt refunds to consumers.

When passengers are owed a refund, they have the right to expect the airline to act promptly and give them their money back,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We also expect airlines to file accurate and timely consumer reports so that passengers will have the information they need when choosing an airline.”US DOT

Refund Requirements per DOT:

  • Refunds must be made within 20 days for tickets purchased by cash or check.
  • Airlines are required to process refund requests within seven (7) days of receipt of a complete request when the ticket is purchased by credit card.

United’s customer service commitment, posted on its website here, pledged to comply with these standards. However, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office, during an on-site inspection at the airline’s headquarters, found that between March and May of 2012, United failed to process over 9,000 refund requests in a timely manner.

United was also cited, but NOT fined, for:

  1. Filing inaccurate reports of its mishandled baggage and over-sales; and
  2. Failing to file timely reports of incidents involving animals in flight.

No fine was imposed for these violations because United self reported the errors to DOT and took corrective action.  The under-reported amounts of mishandled baggage was from passengers between January and October 2011, while the number of passengers it bumped (both voluntarily and involuntarily) was for each quarter of 2011 from flights on which it sold more tickets than the number of available seats.

As expected, such under-reporting made United’s ranking in these categories seem better than reality. Also, during 2012 and 2013, United failed to file timely reports for a few incidents involving the death, injury or loss of animals on its flights.

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