Philippine Airlines has refused to issue refunds despite canceling a vast percentage of its U.S. and international flights last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a proposed class action claims.
The plaintiff, a Union City, California resident, claims in the 57-page filing that she’s been attempting to recover a refund for a canceled April 2020 flight to Manila since last year, and has spent hours on hold amid her unsuccessful attempts at reimbursement. The case alleges the airline and co-defendant PAL Holdings’ “inexplicable and continuous” withholding of customers’ refunds amounts to a violation of its Contract of Carriage and other representations made to passengers with regard to coronavirus-related cancellations.
As the lawsuit tells it, nothing has come of Philippine Airlines’ claim that the plaintiff should allow “3-6 months processing” for the refund request she filed last July.
“All told, Plaintiff has waited for her refund for more than 12 months,” the complaint says. “She sent a total of 8 emails and called 10 times. PAL’s representations to Plaintiff never materialized. Instead, PAL led Plaintiff, like others similar [sic] situated, through a test of exhaustion.”
The lawsuit points to Article 10 of the airline’s Contract of Carriage, which reportedly provides that the “[r]efund of a Ticket or any of its unused portion … shall be subject to these Conditions of Carriage.” A section of that article, titled “When To File For Refund And To Whom Refund Will Be Made,” sets out that refunds for a ticket or any of its unused portion shall be applied by the airline within the period of the validity of the ticket and 30 days thereafter, the suit says. The case stresses that regardless of whether a refund request stems from a voluntary or involuntary flight cancellation, the Contract of Carriage makes clear that passengers are entitled to reimbursement.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Transportation, by way of multiple enforcement notices last year, reminded carriers of their obligation to provide prompt refunds to passengers in the event that a scheduled flight was canceled or changed significantly, the suit goes on.
A customer who went to Philippine Airlines’ website at the height of the pandemic would have encountered multiple representations with regard to flights affected by COVID-19-related cancellations, the case says. Options presented on the site for customers affected by cancellations included rebooking or rerouting to a later date, converting the unused value of their ticket to a voucher for future use or requesting a refund for the ticket without penalty, the lawsuit states. The defendants also represented to consumers that there was “[n]o need to worry” and that refunds could be secured in “the comfort and safety of [their] own home,” according to the complaint.
Contrary to Philippine Airlines’ previous representations, the lawsuit says, those who submitted an online refund form came to find out that the processing of refunds might take three to four months “from lifting of enhanced community quarantine,” and not around 90 bank days, or two to three billing cycles, from the date of processing. Many customers who completed refund requests received an email asking to allow for five months from the date the refund was processed in order to receive a credit to their bank account, the suit says.
“At this point, PAL represents for the first time that consumers should allow a minimum of five months from the date the refund was processed for the refund to be credited back to the account used,” the filing reads, mentioning that the plaintiff and other proposed class members have, in many cases, waited more than a year before securing refunds.
The suit looks to cover all persons in the United States who purchased tickets for travel on a Philippine Airlines flight scheduled to operate to, from or within the U.S. and whose flights were canceled or subject to a significant schedule change and not refunded.
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