2020 Was Airlines' Annus Horribilis, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in closed borders, cancelled flights, and angry passengers demanding refunds. Which airlines did the right thing and issued refunds for airline-cancelled flights? The U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) Air Travel Consumer Report for January-December 2020 tells the story.
U.S. airline complaints about refunds increased from 628 in 2019 to 29,687 in 2020, a startling 47-fold increase. United, with over 10,000 refund complaints, received more than American Airlines (4442) and Delta (3334) combined. Relatively early on, in May, the DoT informed airlines that they must refund passengers within 7 days if the airline cancelled the flight.
But international airline refund complaints totaled to even more than U.S. airline refund complaints: 45,856. While it's not a perfect proxy, especially since the airlines vary in size, here are the best and worst airlines by the number of refund complaints over 2020:
Best Major Airlines for Refunds, 2020
- Thai Airways (22)
- China Southern (26)
- China Eastern (51)
- Air China (54)
- Japan Airlines (83)
- Cathay Pacific (106)
- Qantas (112)
- ANA (114)
- Asiana (125)
- Korean Air (141)
- EVA Airways (144)
- Etihad Airways (247)
- Air New Zealand (266)
- Singapore Airlines (296)
- Qatar (396)
Worst Major Airlines for Refunds, 2020
- United (10,229)
- Air Canada (5784)
- TAP Air Portugal (5007)
- American Airlines (4442)
- Frontier Airlines (4329)
- Delta Air Lines (3334)
- El Al Israel Airlines (2245)
- Lufthansa (2122)
- Southwest Airlines (1447)
- JetBlue Airways (1349)
- WestJet (1263)
- British Airways (1177)
- Hawaiian Airlines (1154)
If you were due a refund for a flight an airline cancelled in 2020, how promptly did you receive a refund? Did you file a complaint with the DoT?
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Surprised Virgin Atlantic did not make the worst. Four months for me to get a refund. Just re-booked for two and had to cancel it again. Two months ago. Got a refund within 10 days for one ticket and still waiting for the next. I’m done. I simply disputed it with my credit card company. Tired of living on text message with virgin Atlantic.
Sorry to hear of the delays with your Virgin Atlantic refunds. Virgin Atlantic was middling in terms of DoT complaints, with 716 complaints (the UK Civil Aviation Authority may well have received more complaints for Virgin Atlantic, but hard to know as only Q1-Q3 2020 complaint stats have been published, not Q4 2020).
Hello Hilary you can add Air France to the worst. They cancelled my flight to Buenos Aires, and I never got a refund, they forced me to accept a voucher which I did’nt use.