Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is one of the latest carriers to face a proposed class action over its alleged refusal to issue cash refunds to passengers whose flights were canceled or changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 12-page suit says that Cathay, which transports an average of one million passengers every month under normal conditions, was forced to cancel or significantly alter vast portions of its flight schedule due to travel restrictions triggered by the novel coronavirus outbreak. Instead of offering refunds to those whose flights were canceled, Cathay has instead “quietly sought” to force customers to accept travel credits with “harsh and untenable expiration dates,” the lawsuit claims.
According to the suit, Cathay has forced customers whose flights were canceled or altered to navigate its website in order to ask for a refund and then uniformly denies such requests. The case further claims the airline has set up “numerous bureaucratic barriers” that prevent many customers from receiving a refund or even a flight credit due to their inability to successfully complete the online refund request process.
According to the suit, Cathay’s contract of carriage states that if the airline cancels a flight or “fail[s] to operate a flight reasonably according to schedule,” customers are to receive a refund in the amount equal to the fare paid. If a portion of the ticket had already been used, customers are to be refunded the higher of the one-way fare to their destination or next stopover or the difference between the fare paid and the fare for the transportation used, the lawsuit adds.
Nowhere in the airline’s contract of carriage does Cathay promise, permit, or require the issuance of vouchers or coupons instead of cash refunds in the event of a flight cancellation, the case says.
Moreover, the suit notes the U.S. Department of Transportation, after recognizing that airlines were beginning to deny reimbursement to those whose flights were canceled or changed during the COVID-19 outbreak, issued an enforcement notice reminding carriers of their continued obligation to issue refunds.
“Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, the airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for cancelled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged,” the notice stated.
The lawsuit argues that Cathay has defied both its own contract of carriage and the DOT’s mandate in refusing to offer refunds.
The two plaintiffs claim that after their February 2020 return flight from the Philippines was canceled by the defendant, the couple was forced to book tickets with another airline to return to the U.S. Although a Cathay representative originally informed the plaintiffs that they would receive a refund for the canceled flight, the couple was told only after returning to the U.S. that they would instead receive flight credits, the suit says. Per the plaintiffs, the credits are set to expire one year from the original date of purchase, meaning the couple must use them by July 2020.
The lawsuit claims the offer of expiring credits is “particularly wrongful and inadequate” during the COVID-19 crisis, as “it remains entirely unclear” when international travel will again be available.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.