The US Department of Transportation (US DOT) is to take enforcement action against Lufthansa, South African Airways and KLM Royal Dutch Airways for what it terms “extreme delays in providing more than $900 million in refunds” as a result of pandemic-induced cancellations or significant changes to bookings.

A total of $2.5 million in civil penalties against the airlines will also be imposed, with Lufthansa and KLM both subject to a $1.1 million penalty apiece while South African Airways will to pay a $300,000 fine.

“When a flight is cancelled or significantly changed, you shouldn’t have to fight with the airline to get their money back – and we’re holding airlines accountable when they fail to give passengers the refunds that they’re owed,” commented US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Lufthansa is liable for the largest required refunds, owing $775 million, followed by KLM at $113.3 million, with South African Airways owing $15.2 million.

Provisions on the final US DOT ruling for airline refunds were fortified through the FAA Reauthorisation Act of 2024, signed into law in May 2024. To date, the DOT has issued more than $166 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations; part of its ongoing work to “ensure passengers are treated fairly by airlines, which has already resulted in the largest airline fines in the Department’s history and nearly $4 billion returned to passengers in refunds and reimbursements”.

Lufthansa, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and South African Airways have been approached for comment.
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