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Government Says Airlines Must Refund Canceled Flights—Eventually | Frommer's biggaju / Shutterstock

Government Says Airlines Must Refund Canceled Flights—Eventually

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued an "enforcement notice" reminding airlines and the "traveling public" that passengers whose flights are canceled or significantly delayed should receive refunds regardless of the "unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 public health emergency on air travel."

The agency reports having received an "increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers . . . who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed."

In many cases, passengers say that they're being offered "vouchers or credits for future travel" in lieu of refunds.

However, U.S. as well as international airlines are required to give refunds when they cancel flights, according to the DOT's statement, even when the "flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions)."

Keep in mind that the refund rule applies only to flights canceled by the airlines—not to travel you decide to cancel on your own. You're still on the hook for those tickets, though many carriers have eased their rebooking policies amid the global health crisis. 

Another thing to keep in mind: The DOT has not set any deadlines for when airlines should issue refunds beyond advising that passengers should get their money back "promptly."

In fact, the government's enforcement notice says that airlines are being given time—an unspecified amount of time, we might add—to comply with the refund policy before the DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office takes further action to ensure that customers are reimbursed. 

In other words, you may be entitled to a refund, but heaven only knows when you'll get it.