State AGs want the power to crack down on airlines

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State AGs say that the DOT isn't doing a good job holding airlines accountable.
State AGs say that the DOT isn't doing a good job holding airlines accountable. Photo Credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

The attorneys general of 38 states have penned a letter to congressional leaders, requesting legislation that would empower states to take consumer-protection action against airlines.

"The mistreatment of airline consumers is a bipartisan issue -- one that requires immediate action from federal lawmakers," reads the letter, which is addressed to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. 

The letter addresses airline service failures that have rankled travelers. For the first six months of 2022, the DOT received more complaints than it received in all of the pre-Covid year of 2019. Through Aug. 30, U.S. airlines had canceled 2.6% of flights this year and delayed 21.3%, up from 2% and 17.2% respectively during the same periods in 2019. 

The letter also addresses existing federal law, which places oversight of airline consumer practices under the realm of the DOT and disempowers state governments from undertaking their own regulation and enforcement. 

The DOT, the letter says, has failed to take the necessary action against airlines, but states are powerless to fill the vacuum. 

"If state attorneys general had a substantial and meaningful role in overseeing airline consumer protection, the failure of the U.S. DOT would be ameliorated by the ability of state attorneys general to enforce the law," the letter says. "But state attorneys general have little to no authority to hold airline companies accountable for unacceptable behavior towards consumers."

In recent months, the DOT has commenced or furthered a variety of regulatory proposals geared toward furthering air travelers' rights. Among them is a proposal that airlines be required to offer refunds for domestic flight delays of more than three hours and international delays of more than six hours. The DOT will also debut a dashboard on Sept. 1 that highlights the various services airlines have committed to offering during flight delays. 

However, the DOT has yet to fine a single U.S. carrier for violations of refund requirements during the pandemic. The DOT says that it is currently pursuing action against 10 carriers, and notes that last year it levied a record fine against Air Canada

In their letter, the attorneys general say that along with empowering states to enforce consumer-protection rules for air travelers, Congress should consider shifting the authority for federal investigations either to the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department. 

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