The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has ordered six airlines to pay $600 million in refunds to passengers who had their flights canceled or significantly delayed during the pandemic. Only one of the six, Frontier, is a U.S. airline. The other five are foreign carriers: Air India, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico, El Al, and Avianca.

The DOT also fined the six airlines a total of $7.25 million for what it called “extreme delays in providing refunds.”

Here are the fines and required refund amounts:





$222 million

$2.2 million

Air India

$121.5 million

$1.4 million

TAP Portugal

$126.5 million

$1.1 million


$13.6 million


El Al

$61.9 million



$76.8 million


“When a flight gets canceled, passengers seeking refunds should be paid back promptly. Whenever that doesn’t happen, we will act to hold airlines accountable on behalf of American travelers and get passengers their money back,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. “A flight cancellation is frustrating enough, and you shouldn’t also have to haggle or wait months to get your refund.”

While the DOT calls these enforcement actions “historic,” consumer advocates are asking about the rest of the money U.S. airlines owe their customers for cancellations.

“It’s great that the DOT is finally demanding some accountability, but $600 million is a drop in the bucket. Airlines owe some $10 billion in refunds going back to the beginning of the pandemic, Teresa Murray, consumer watchdog at U.S. PIRG said in a statement.

Bill McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the nonprofit American Economic Liberties Project, was also critical of the DOT action.

“Airlines that brazenly skirt the rules deserve to be fined, but this latest round of enforcement from the USDOT comes almost three years too late and leaves out the most egregious U.S. offenders, McGee said in a statement.

“Frontier’s decision to withhold valid refunds deserves punishment,” McGee said. “But so too does the ongoing abuse of passengers by American, Delta, and United, whose market share dwarfs Frontier’s.”

As Checkbook has reported, when Covid lockdowns started in March 2020, the airline industry often ignored federal regulations which require them to provide cash refunds when flights are cancelled or substantially delayed.

The Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report for 2022 shows that United led all domestic carriers with 10,229 consumer refund complaints, far outpacing Frontier’s 4,329 complaints. And yet, McGee points out, DOT has not penalized United or any other U.S. airline other than Frontier.

With the holiday travel season right around the corner, consumer advocates remind passengers that under federal law, if your flight is canceled you are entitled to a full refund. You do not have to accept flight credits or travel vouchers unless you want them. DOT regulations require the airlines to provide a cash refund when a scheduled flight does not take off.

More Info: PIRG has a guide to your rights to a refund, and tips to understand airlines’ policies on credits and vouchers.


Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for NW Newsradio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at