Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to launch an investigation into Denver-based Frontier Airlines after receiving more than 100 complaints about what he called deceptive and unfair practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The complaints center on Frontier’s unwillingness to provide refunds, its failure to promptly redeem flight credits or vouchers given in lieu of a refund, and not helping customers when they call to resolve problems.
“We urge you to carefully review Frontier’s practices and, if you find such practices to be unfair or deceptive, to use your authority to protect consumers. Our office is prepared to work with you to support a thorough examination of Frontier’s practices and ensure consumers are protected during this precarious time,” Weiser wrote in a letter to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday.
Federal regulations require airlines to provide refunds when they cancel or significantly change or delay flights, even when the reasons are outside the airlines’ control. Weiser said consumers from Colorado and 29 other states have contacted his office about Frontier’s failure in that regard.
Instead of refunds, Frontier has offered credits for future flights to be used within 90 days of the cancellation of the original flight. But when consumers tried to redeem their credits, they couldn’t because of an error-prone website and unresponsive call center, which placed customers on hold for hours or regularly disconnected them mid-call.
Others were reassured that if they needed to extend the 90-day period, they could call back closer to the expiration date. When they actually did that, Frontier refused to extend the credit period, according to Weiser.
Consumers who did manage to redeem credits weren’t allowed to carry over any remaining value after booking a flight, forcing them to forfeit significant amounts of money.
“The law requires airlines like Frontier to treat consumers fairly and honestly. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we received more complaints about Frontier’s conduct — failing to honor its commitment to provide refunds — than any other company,” Weiser said in a news release Tuesday.
Although a federal investigation could harm a significant Colorado employer, Weiser said “companies cannot be allowed to take advantage of consumers during this time and must be held accountable for deceptive and unfair conduct.” He urged the DOT to use its authority, including civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation, where appropriate.
Frontier Airlines “strongly disputed” the allegations Weiser made in his letter.
“Throughout the pandemic, Frontier Airlines has acted in good faith to care for our passengers compassionately and fairly,” said spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz. “At all times we have remained in full compliance with DOT rules and regulations governing flight changes, cancellations and refunds.”
The federal government set aside $25 billion in loans to passenger carriers, including Frontier Airlines, to help them cover revenue losses because of the pandemic, which in theory should have cushioned the blow that comes with providing refunds.
But the money isn’t enough to cover the losses the industry is facing. Numerous airlines have announced significant layoffs starting Oct. 1, when restrictions on large job reductions are lifted. Frontier Airlines has said it plans to furlough about 1,500 workers, including nearly 400 in Denver.
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