United Airlines faces two federal class actions related to its handling of refund requests during the Covid-19 crisis. 

Both cases were filed Monday in the Northern District of Illinois, where United’s home base of Chicago is located. 

The carrier has faced scrutiny over the past month for changing its refund policy repeatedly. Under Transportation Department regulations, a flyer is entitled to a refund if the airline cancels his or her flight and the customer chooses not to rebook or accept a voucher. 

One of the cases was brought by Vermont resident John Compo, who paid $1,051 for a roundtrip ticket to New Zealand for travel beginning April 6. After United emailed Compo on April 3 that his flight had been canceled, Compo requested a refund via phone and online but was denied, the suit says. 

The other case was brought by Minnesota resident Jacob Rudolph, who spent $1,521 on three tickets from Hilton Head, S.C., to Minneapolis for travel on April 4. The flight was eventually canceled, the lawsuit says.  However, over the course of March 31 to April 2, United refused Rudolph’s refund requests.

The Compo lawsuit references United’s changing refund policy. Until March 6, United’s stated policy was to provide refunds for travel delayed more than two hours. Over the next eight days, the carrier changed its policy three times, ultimately landing on one in which international ticket holders could only get a refund if travel was delayed more than six hours. The policy also stated that United would provide only a voucher until 12 months after the originally scheduled flight. Only then would unused voucher holders be able to get a refund. 

“In other words, rather than make its customers whole in this time of need by refunding them monies they paid for flights they will never take, United has elected to force its customers to provide it with a one-year, interest free loan,” the suit says. 

The Rudolph case also references United’s repeated policy changes. (United’s latest policy has done away with the 12-month wait period. The carrier now says it will refund tickets to for flyers whose domestic or international travel has been delayed more than six hours.)

In the Compo suit, the attorneys note that on April 3, the Department of Transportation issued an enforcement order stating that airlines continue to be required to issue prompt refunds when flights are canceled. 

The suits accuse United of fraud, unjust enrichment and violations of state consumer protection acts. They ask the court to require United to refund ticket holders, pay interest and to pay additional punitive damages. 

The Compo case defines eligible class action participants as anyone in the U.S. who purchased United tickets on or after Feb. 29 and either sought to cancel their flights or had their flights canceled. The Rudolph suit defines eligible participants as anyone in the U.S. who purchased United tickets for flights from March 1 and who were either refused a refund or who will seek a refund in the future. 

In an email, United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said that since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the carrier has implemented new policies allowing customers to rebook travel or cancel trips and receive a voucher without a fee. 

“Eligible travelers on domestic flights -- and customers with international tickets -- can request a refund on United.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to Covid-19,” she said.

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