Minnesota police officer Jacob Rudolph planned to take his family to Hilton Head, SC for vacation on April 4, 2020—then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Rudolph paid $1,521.45 for three tickets in January 2020. The airline cancelled thousands of flights due to the coronavirus pandemic, impacting thousands more customers.
United Airlines offered to rebook its customers’ flights or issue travel vouchers, which would expire one year from the original ticket date. The airline since extended the voucher expirations for up two years. After repeatedly requesting a refund to no avail, Rudolph filed a federal class action lawsuit in Chicago (read it here).
United Airlines’ refusal to refund passengers is particularly troubling for a number of reasons. Foremost, the airline cancelled the flight due to the outbreak—not Rudolph or the thousands of other passengers. Second, The U.S. Department of Transportation issued an Enforcement Notice to all U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.” This is true for all flights affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency and applies to ticket prices and optional fees.
Rudolph alleges the airline committed consumer fraud and engaged in deceptive business practices and alleges $5 million in damages on behalf of himself and other class members. One could argue United Airlines’ refusal is particularly galling since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act already provided a $25 billion bailout to the airline industry that is requesting $58 billion in aid.
Finally, it goes without saying that, given the concomitant downturn in the economy, these funds are desperately needed by broad swaths of the American public. Rudolph’s lawyers accuse United Airlines of leveraging a crisis of unprecedented proportions to place their profits ahead of their customers’ best interests and doing what is fair and proper. Rudolf’s lawsuit seeks compensatory damages for the costs of the flights as well as punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
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