The US government has secured more than $900 million in refunds for passengers who faced “extreme delays” in receiving compensation from Lufthansa, KLM and South African Airways for Covid-19-related flight changes and cancellations. 

”Under the consent orders, the three airlines are required to provide timely refunds to passengers when owed and to pay a civil penalty to the US Treasury,” the US Department of Transportation (DOT) said on 3 June.  

In addition to the refunds the airlines have paid back, the three airlines have agreed to pay a total of $2.5 million in civil penalties for not providing timely refunds. 

Lufthansa A380

Source: Lufthansa

Lufthansa is among three airlines that have paid substantial refunds and fines for flight disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic 

German carrier Lufthansa is bearing most of the burden, paying $775 million in refunds and a $1.1 million penalty. Dutch carrier KLM has paid $113 million in refunds and a $1.1 million penalty, while South African Airways has returned $15 million to customers and is paying a $300,000 fine. 

The DOT claims to have secured nearly $4 billion in compensation for airline passengers who experienced significant disruptions since the pandemic. Most of the fines will be paid to the US Treasury. 

“When a flight is cancelled or significantly changed, you shouldn’t have to fight with the airline to get their money back—and we’re holding airlines accountable when they fail to give passengers the refunds that they’re owed,” says Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. ”We are using all our tools to improve air travel for everyone.” 

Last month, the DOT announced final rules to introduce automatic refunds for airline passengers whose flights are majorly disrupted, and to protect consumers from surprise fees for baggage and other add-ons. 

Ultra-low-cost carriers Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines both recently announced the elimination of change and cancellation fees. 

”These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed and save consumers more than half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees,” the DOT says.  

Buttigieg’s DOT also created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard in late 2022 that helps consumers understand their rights when they are affected by delays and cancellations considered to be within an airline’s control.