Passenger Jacob Rudolph filed the lawsuit in Chicago federal court on Monday after he claims the airline refused to refund three tickets he purchased in January totaling $1,521.45. Rudolph says the airline cancelled his April 4 flight between Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He then requested a refund several times, "but like so many other passengers, United denied that request," the lawsuit said. According to Rudolph, United offered to rebook his flight or issue him a ticket credit for travel within one year of the issue date. Over the weekend, United announced they were extending voucher expirations for up to two years.
The class action suit was filed just three days after the Department of Transportation (DOT) told the airlines that they remain obligated to provide a “prompt refund” to passengers whose flights were affected by COVID-19.
"The Department is receiving an increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers, including many with non-refundable tickets, who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were canceled or significantly delayed,” DOT said in a statement. "In many of these cases, the passengers stated that the carrier informed them that they would receive vouchers or credits for future travel."
United said in a statement to ABC News that they have not been served with the complaint and therefore cannot comment on it. United said that "eligible travelers on domestic flights -- and customers with international tickets" can request a refund online or may call United's contact centers if their flight has been "severely adjusted" or "service to their destination" was suspended either due to government mandates or the airline's schedule reductions.
"The need for monetary refunds over travel vouchers is pressing now," the lawsuit says. "Travel vouchers provide little security in this public crisis, particularly where many individual Americans need money now to pay for basics like food and rent, not restrictive, temporary credits towards future travel."
A little over a week ago, nine Democratic senators sent letters to all the major U.S. airline CEOs urging them to issue customers full cash refunds.
U.S. airlines secured almost $60 billion in the stimulus package comprised of both cash grants and loans. The airlines agreed to refrain from laying off employees through September, place limits on executive compensation for two years, and eliminate stock buybacks for at least a year.
"It would be unacceptable to us for your company to hold onto travelers’ payments for canceled flights instead of refunding them, especially in light of the $25 billion bailout that the airline industry just received from Congress," the senators wrote to airline CEOs.
Senators asked the airlines to respond by April 7.