Passenger Files Class-Action Lawsuit Against United Airlines for Denying Ticket Refund Following Coronavirus-Related Flight Cancellation

Lawsuit seeks to force airlines to honor ticket refund requests related to flight cancellations due to COVID-19 outbreak

CHICAGO – A passenger has filed a class-action lawsuit against United Airlines for refusing to honor his ticket refund request after his family’s flight was cancelled, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman.

Like so many other U.S. ticket holders who had their travel cancelled due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus, the lawsuit’s plaintiff received a voucher in lieu of a refund, which he would not be able to use due to employment restrictions also related to COVID-19.

If an airline denied your refund request after your flight was cancelled due to the outbreak, find out more about the lawsuit and your rights.

According to the lawsuit filed Apr. 6, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, United refuses to issue monetary refunds to passengers with cancelled flights, despite their being entitled to a refund if the airline cancelled a flight regardless of the reason. United is only offering its customers vouchers that expire in one year or the opportunity to rebook on another flight. Following travel restrictions, lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19, within a span of seven days in March 2020, United changed its refund policy four times regarding passenger rights when flights are altered.

In January 2020, the suit’s plaintiff and his family had purchased flights from Minneapolis to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in late March of the same year. As a police officer, the case’s plaintiff was immediately impacted by the local state of emergency issued in his city, thus causing his department’s administration to cancel all vacations and adopt modified schedules for police officers. This rendered United’s offered voucher unusable and a rebooking a non-option. When he requested a refund in light of these circumstances, United denied it.

“Our nation and the world are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, and to the public’s collective disappointment, airlines are using this as an opportunity to put their profits first,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman and attorney consumers in the class action. “So many airline ticketholders are in the same position as our plaintiff, left with no ticket, no refund and no recourse. We’re here to fight for their rights under the law to an honest refund of their ticket price, and force airlines to follow the rules.”

“A pandemic does not give license to corporations to take advantage of their customers,” Berman added. “All citizens are currently under economic uncertainty due to the pandemic, and the least United could do would be to issue the monetary refund its customers are entitled to.”

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans are now subject to a travel restriction, all in an effort to protect the health and welfare of the nation during this public health emergency.

“…United has slashed its flight schedules, resulting in thousands of flight cancellations for thousands more passengers.  But such passengers face additional hardship for booking their flights with United,” the lawsuit states. “As United announced flight cancellations (combined with decreased domestic bookings), United took a variety of steps to make it difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to receive any refund on pandemic cancelled flights.  It does so despite consumers’ right to receive a refund for unused transportation, even for non-refundable tickets.”

The lawsuit against United seeks refunds for class members for the amount paid for airline tickets, punitive damages and an injunction directing United to issue refunds for cancelled flights.

United’s Changing Refund Policy

On Mar. 7, 2020, the same day the World Health Organization reported that there were now more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 in 94 countries, United altered its policy to require a flight time change of at least 25 hours to receive a refund, according to the lawsuit.

“Yet after consumers complained, it tried out two more policies, a vague March 10 policy permitting refunds only if ‘departure or arrival time significantly changes,’ followed by a March 12 policy permitting refunds only if the flight is moved by more than six hours,” the lawsuit states. “More recently, on March 14, the company settled on its current policy of credits, not refunds — even with six-hour-plus changes — until a year has passed from the original date of purchase, at which time a refund may be issued.”

“Airlines are set to receive a hefty bailout for their share of the unforeseen hardships the pandemic has caused, to the tune of $58 billion,” Berman said. “And yet, United and other airlines, are leaving their customers helpless, adding one more worry to a seemingly endless list. We expect better, and legally we believe United is obligated to change its behavior.”

The lawsuit states that members of Congress have also called upon United to issue refunds, and United’s failure to do so may violate regulations under the Department of Transportation. The suit brings counts under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and other state consumer protection acts, and accuses United of unjust enrichment, among other causes of action.

Find out more about the class-action lawsuit against United.

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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with nine offices across the country. The firm’s tenacious drive for plaintiffs’ rights has earned it numerous national accolades, awards and titles of “Most Feared Plaintiff’s Firm,” and MVPs and Trailblazers of class-action law. More about the law firm and its successes can be found at Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.

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