Senators Want More Airline Accountability from DOT


In a letter sent to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and DOT general counsel John Putnam. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Alex Padilla of California want answers on how the agency plan on ensuring consumer protections in the space.


Citing Higher Cancellations, Lawmakers Want More Support

In their letter, the two legislators cite both increasing airfares and the increased number of cancellations for their alert to the Transportation Department. According to the latest data released by the DOT, airlines have cancelled over 122,000 flights this year, which the senators note is more than all of 2021. Moreover, flyer frustrations have boiled over, filing even more complaints than ever.


“Even after receiving $50 billion in government assistance, airlines have failed to issue at least $10 billion in refunds for flight cancellations throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, despite being required to do so by federal law,” the letter reads. “Put another way, Americans are spending far more money for a substandard travel experience—and sometimes to not fly at all.”


The pair note the Transportation Department has authority over “unfair practices” in three different areas: Flight delays, Flight cancellations and involuntary rebookings. In regards to delays, Senators Warren and Padilla suggest the DOT issues a new rule “that imposes fines on airlines on the delays they cause.”


The two also want the agency to create and enforce penalties on cancellations and re-bookings as well. The letter calls for air carriers to be held accountable for cancelling flights “whether due to their own poor operations and staffing practices through intentional schemes to offer flights they know they can’t staff in order to later cancel the least-profitable flights.” They argue that adding penalties for cancellations could “change airlines’ calculus about harming consumers to protect their own profits.” On involuntary re-bookings, the two suggest adding rules which “compensate passengers enough to encourage voluntary re-bookings or else pay a hefty fine (in addition to compensating the passenger).”


Their letter closes with ten questions they want the Transportation Department to answer by August 9, 2022. Their questions include:


  • During the Biden Administration, how many hearings has the Department held to assess whether an air carrier is engaged in an unfair or deceptive practice or unfair method of competition?
  • Please describe the status of all rulemakings pertaining to airline consumer protections currently under way and any proposed rulemakings the Department is currently considering.
  • Since 2000, how many times has the Department referred a merger or airline practice to the Department of Justice or another competition or consumer protection enforcement agency?


Officials from the DOT have not publicly responded to the letter.


Inquiry Comes as Airline Industry Poises for Changes

The senators’ letter come as the airline industry is in chaos from public travel demand and changes which could change the competition. In addition to at least two flyers claiming airlines stuck them with big bills, Spirit Airlines is caught in the middle of a bidding war between JetBlue and Frontier Airlines.


Feature image courtesy: kmf164/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Source: frugal travel guy

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