The US government has handed down a fine of $1.1 million to British Airways over claims it failed to pay refunds for canceled flights during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a detailed statement, the US Department of Transportation said the UK flag carrier did not provide "timely refunds to passengers" for abandoned or rescheduled flights to and from the country.
According to the report, the department had received more than 1,200 complaints about the airline. In response, British Airways rejected the accusations, saying it had "acted lawfully at all times."
During the period of eight months starting from March 2020, the airline's website instructed consumers to contact the carrier by phone to discuss refund options, including for flights the carrier had cancelled or significantly changed.
“British Airways’ website contained contradictory and false information regarding refund options for impacted consumers. Specifically, following flight cancellations and schedule changes, consumers that logged into the airline’s Manage My Booking webpage would see a conspicuous 'Cancel and refund flight(s)' blue button that linked to an online form. However, consumers could not request a refund by completing this form,” the US Department of Transportation said.
The report added that the misleading information on the website had led consumers to inadvertently request travel vouchers instead of refunds.
It said that along with the 1,200 complaints received by the department, British Airways had received thousands more complaints and refund requests directly from consumers.
The airline said: "We're very sorry that at the height of the unprecedented pandemic - when we were unfortunately forced to cancel thousands of flights and close some call centres due to government restrictions - our customers experienced slightly longer wait times to reach customer service teams. During this period, we acted lawfully at all times and offered customers the flexibility of rebooking travel on different dates, or claiming a refund if their flights were cancelled. To date, we have issued more than five million refunds since the start of the pandemic," AA reports