B In an order explaining the decision, the Department for Transport explains that British Airways failed to “ensure the proper functionality of its customer support telephone lines” when it was flooded with calls from passengers seeking a refund.
Consumer Protection Authority in aviation, DOT received about 1,200 complaints from disgruntled customers who blamed British Airways for never getting paid for services not rendered.
At the onset of the pandemic, British Airways closed two of its five global call centers without warning due to local government regulations to combat the pandemic, putting additional strain on the remaining customer service lines, which only reached full capacity in August 2020.
At the same time, the airline has disabled the main way to receive refunds for the flight on its website and has not provided an alternative. Instead, the British advised passengers to call its customer service line, but many were unable to get through.
According to the regulator in the US, British Airways' website provided customers with “contradictory and false information”; about refund options, resulting in some accidentally requesting a voucher for future flights when they actually wanted a cash refund.
When these confused consumers then requested a refund, the airline denied their request, claiming the voucher was final and non-refundable. It was not until November 2020 that British Airways reinstated online ticket refunds.
In response to a DOT investigation, British Airways said it did a great job given the “astronomical number of flight cancellations” and denied that customers had experienced with “excessive latency.”
The airline said it made 2.8 million refunds and paid out more than $763 million in 2020, of which $40 million was in non-refundable tickets altogether. The fact that 70 per cent of the victims were able to receive a refund, according to the airline, clearly shows that it was not so difficult to request a refund.
However, British Airways agreed to enter into an agreement with DOT to impose a fine of $1.1 million, although the airline will only have to pay half, with the remainder being used as a refund for non-refundable tickets that British Airways voluntarily returned.