Bipartisan group of 37 AGs urging stronger protections for airline customers

A bipartisan coalition of 37 attorneys general are requesting the U.S. Department of Transportation improve protections for airline customers.

The coalition, led by Democratic Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, sent a letter on Monday urging Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to adopt proposed rules for airline ticket refunds and other protections. It stated appreciation for the department’s efforts to address the problems of flight cancellations and significant delays, but the eight-page letter emphasized proposed regulations must be strengthened.

“We are aware of the frustrations experienced by countless consumers whose flights have been cancelled or delayed and the inadequate remedies that have been offered to them,” the letter stated. “In fact, our offices have repeatedly brought to the USDOT’s attention complaints from airline passengers impacted by the airlines’ cancellation or significant delay of their flights.”

The letter highlighted Weiser’s September 2020 complaint to former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao concerning Denver-based Frontier Airlines’ alleged unfair or deceptive practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Weiser claimed the airline’s flight-change policies and customer service practices violated federal law.

“In our experience, the USDOT has yet to develop the ability to respond quickly enough to or coordinate effectively with our offices,” the letter stated. “That is why a bipartisan coalition of 37 attorneys general have twice urged Congress to take meaningful action and pass legislation that would authorize state attorneys general to enforce state and federal consumer protection laws governing the airline industry.”

The attorneys general warned about possible abuse of a proposed rule requiring refunds when there’s a significant change in flight itinerary.

“Because some currently published airline refund policies are more protective of consumers – providing refunds after a 120-minute delay, for example – USDOT should take steps to ensure that setting a floor does not cause some airlines to loosen their standards to the detriment of consumers,” the letter stated.

Other suggestions include:

requirements for airlines to advertise and sell flights only if they have adequate staff to fly and support the flight;audits to ensure compliance with regulations and impose fines when airlines fail to meet regulations;fines for cancellations and extended delays not related to weather;partial refunds when a rescheduled flight, accepted by the passenger, is later, longer or otherwise less valuable than the original purchased flight;prohibit flight cancellation while upselling consumers for more expensive alternative flights to the same destinations;ensure credits or vouchers for cancelled flights can be used easily without inappropriate limitations;additional compensation to consumers paying additional costs for meals, hotel stays, flights on other airlines, rental cars and gasoline due to flight delays or cancellations.

“Coloradans tell our office often about airlines over-complicating refunds, not adhering to their cancellation policies, and generally making travel challenging and costly,” Weiser said in a statement.

Other states and territories signing onto the letter are Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

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