The last thing Delta Air Lines was expecting in its fight to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic was a class-action lawsuit. But, it looks like the airline will be lawyering up because of a proposed lawsuit seeking refunds for flights the airline canceled.
Delta customer Elliot Daniels is listed as the plaintiff in the case. He claims that he purchased four round-trip tickets on February 20 for travel to occur starting on April 1 from Washington Dulles to Cairo, Egypt. However, he says that his flight was canceled twice.
According to the suit, Daniels’ travel agent informed him that he had two options available to him: (1) rebook his trip with a new departure date of March 31, 2020 or (2) cancel his flight in its entirety and receive a refund. Daniels elected to rebook his flight, changing his departure from April 1, 2020 and rebooking the departure for one day earlier, March 31, 2020. However, he alleges that Delta also cancelled his rebooked flight.
Monetary refunds vs. travel vouchers
While the lawsuit shows some understanding of the “unprecedented hardship” the pandemic has caused, the beef Daniels has with Delta is that the airline is adding to the difficulties passengers already face.
“Delta refuses to issue monetary refunds to passengers with canceled flights,” the suit claims, leaning on the Department of Transportation’s mandate that airlines must give monetary compensation and not travel vouchers.
“It does so even though all airline passengers are entitled to a refund if the airline cancels a flight, regardless of the reason the airline cancels the flight. Instead, Delta represents it will only rebook and/or provide travel vouchers,” Daniels contends. “The need for monetary refunds over travel vouchers is pressing now. Travel vouchers provide little security in this public crisis, particularly where many individual Americans need money now to pay for basics like food and rent, not restrictive, temporary credits towards future travel.”
A sticky situation
From what ConsumerAffairs has seen, this refund vs. voucher situation is extremely sticky. Delta, for its part, has been criticized for how quickly it has responded to customers' needs, even admitting its “delays” on Facebook.
One Delta passenger who wound up as a customer service calamity was Diane from Peabody, MA, who found herself stranded in Europe on the eve that President Trump closed the borders with the European Union.
“The gate agent and crew advised we would be stranded for 30 days,” Diane wrote. “At this point the U.K. was not affected. 2 days later Delta cancelled our return flight. We rebooked and paid more money because the new return was higher price even though it would only get us to NYC and we’d need to rent a car to get to Boston. This one was also cancelled. We were advised to wait until 72 hrs prior to departure and they would get us out as soon as possible. The app never let us rebook and no one ever responded. We booked our own way out on another airline. We are still fighting for a refund for the flight they cancelled. I made it clear I would run out of my insulin and other medications and they could not care less.”
Profits over people
Steve Barman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney for consumers in the class action, stated that Delta’s response to the pandemic has been “utterly unacceptable.”
“That Delta is offering time-limited vouchers during an unprecedented time of chaos and uncertainty in our nation’s history only underscores its primary focus of profits over people, and we intend to fight for their right to monetary relief. Americans are losing their sources of income at alarming rates. Vouchers just won’t cut it.”
It’s highly possible that other class-action lawsuits filed by disgruntled consumers will rear their ugly heads. The firm representing Daniels has already filed another class-action lawsuit similar to the Delta one -- this time against United Airlines. A separate, but similar, lawsuit has also been filed against Southwest Airlines.
A Delta representative responded to a ConsumerAffairs request for comment. Their statement is presented below:
With regard to this the lawsuit: Doing right by our customers through refunds and rebookings has been—and will continue to be—a key focus as we manage through this unprecedented global pandemic. The named plaintiff in this suit first requested a refund on April 15—two days before the lawsuit was filed. We expedited the refund process and gladly issued his refund.
With regard to refunds generally: In keeping with our longstanding policy, Delta continues to provide full refunds to eligible passengers requesting them for whom we have cancelled a flight or made a significant schedule change. In March 2020 alone, Delta processed more than one million refunds. Eligible customers may request refunds online at delta.com or contact a reservations agent.