The national airline will have to pay 126.5 million dollars (122.5 million euros) in mandatory refunds — an amount that is already reflected in their accounts — and a fine of 1.1 million dollars (one million euros).

According to a report by ECO, the DOT “announced historic enforcement actions against six airlines, which collectively paid more than $500 million to people who received a refund due to a cancelled or significantly altered flight,” reads a statement. These fines "are part of the DOT's ongoing work to ensure that Americans receive the refunds they are owed."

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the DOT has received numerous complaints from air travellers about the failure of airlines to provide timely refunds after having their flights cancelled or significantly changed,” the document continues. Frontier Airlines (USA), Air India, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico, El Al(Israel) and Avianca (Colombia) were the sanctioned companies.

“Fully committed”

TAP guarantees that it is “fully committed to complying” with the DOT rules, which it takes “very seriously”. The carrier explains to ECO that it has made “good faith efforts to process customer refunds as promptly as possible during the extraordinarily challenging circumstances” caused by the pandemic. “While our mostly manual refunds process was up to the task before the pandemic, our 90% reduced manpower, combined with an avalanche of refund requests due to Covid, meant we were not able to timely deal with the massive and unprecedented requests, which were often complicated with reservations and multiple payment systems”, says an official TAP source.

“To provide assistance to our customers, we hired additional staff as soon as we were financially able to do so and invested in implementing automated solutions to facilitate reimbursements”.

Under US law, “Airlines and travel agents have a legal obligation to reimburse consumers if the airline cancels or significantly changes a flight to, from and within the United States and if the passenger does not wish to accept the alternative offered. It is illegal for an airline to refuse refunds and instead provide vouchers to these consumers.”

“When a flight is cancelled, passengers seeking a refund must be paid immediately. Whenever that doesn't happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travellers and return the money to passengers," said US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, quoted in a statement.