British Airways (BA) has been hit with a fine of $1.1m (£877,000) by United States government.
The US Transportation Department issued the punishment for failing to provide timely refunds for flights to and from the US that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said it had received more than 1,200 complaints saying the airline failed to provide timely refunds since March 2020.
The fine is “a strong deterrent to future similar unlawful practices” by BA and other airlines, the government department added.
Customers were unable to get through to customer service staff when contacting the airline because of inadequate customer phone lines, it said.
BA responded: “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.”
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“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.”
The United Kingdom’s flag carrier airline is being credited $550,000 (£438,793) toward the penalty because in 2020 and 2021 it paid more than $40m in refunds to customers with non-refundable tickets.
Since the start of the pandemic more than five million refunds have been issued, BA added.
Other airlines have also been fined by the department for not issuing timely refunds by the US Transportation Department. Chilean airline LATAM was ordered to pay $1m after it and affiliates delayed refunds.
In the UK the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation to see did airlines breached legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights that consumers could not lawfully take due to COVID-19 lockdown rules.
The CMA concluded the law didn’t provide passengers with a sufficiently clear right to a refund in the unusual circumstances of the pandemic and closed its examination.
BA is owned by IAG (International Airlines Group) who also own Vueling and Aer Lingus.