By Corinne Murdock |
Wednesday’s grounding of thousands of planes due to airlines’ massive management failures proved Arizona’s call for increasing federal oversight a prescient petition. Flights nationwide were grounded due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) computer outages.
Arizona and 29 states asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to require airlines to provide meaningful relief for flight cancellations and delays. The petition occurred a little over a week before yet another sweeping airline catastrophe that occurred last month, resulting in historic highs of major issues like flight cancellations, stranded flyers, and lost baggage.
In a letter, former Attorney General Mark Brnovich advised DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg that the proposed rulemaking to address flight cancellations and delays should be strengthened.
The DOT issued the proposed “Airline Ticket Refunds and Rule Protections” in August. The rule would make it unlawful for an airline to refuse to refund passengers for canceled or significantly modified flights. However, the attorneys general said the DOT’s allowance for a three-hour delay would enable airlines to loosen their standards at the expense of travelers.
The attorneys also suggested that airlines be required to advertise and sell only the flights they have adequate personnel to fly and support. Further, they suggested regular audits and fines for compliance.
The DOT’s proposed rule would require airlines to provide non-expiring travel vouchers or credits for those with non-refundable tickets facing a flight itinerary change after so many hours or those unable to travel due to “serious communicable disease.” The attorneys suggested that airlines be required to not only provide a full refund but offer a partial refund in the event that passengers choose to accept an airline’s alternative flight.
The attorneys general also suggested that airlines be prohibited from canceling and then upselling alternative flights to the same destinations. They further suggested that airlines be required to provide additional compensation for delays or cancellations, such as food, lodging, and transport.
Brnovich also advised the DOT to create a framework ensuring timely and prompt communication with attorneys general. The bipartisan coalition joining Brnovich previously petitioned the DOT in late August for the same remedy, but experienced delays and an absence of any collaboration or communication.
Brnovich co-led the effort signed on by the attorneys general for the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, as well as Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
“It’s time for them to be held to similar consumer protection standards as other service industries,” stated Brnovich.
Brnovich has led a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in advocating for more stringent rules for airlines since the pandemic began. In 2020, Brnovich urged Congress to implement greater consumer protections such as full refunds for travelers who voluntarily canceled flights due to COVID-19, elimination of delays and expirations in refunds for flight cancellations, and the ability for state attorneys general to enforce federal airline consumer protection laws. These petitions have gone unfulfilled.
In 2021, Brnovich filed an antitrust lawsuit against American Airlines and JetBlue Airlines over their Northeast Alliance Agreement. Brnovich noted that past significant mergers of other airlines resulted in reduced quality of services, job losses, and higher ticket prices. The case, United States of America v. American Airlines Group, is ongoing in the Massachusetts District Court before Judge Leo Sorokin.
Currently, passengers are entitled to receive a refund or compensation if they’re involuntarily taken off an oversold flight, moved to a lower class of service than entitled to the difference in fares, unable to use in-flight services they paid for, or subjected to lost or damaged baggage.
Airlines may, but aren’t required to, compensate passengers facing long delays.
In November, the DOT issued over $600 million in penalties to six airlines for delaying refunds for canceled flights. Most were international. Among those penalized were Frontier Airlines, Air India, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico, El Al, and Avianca.
The DOT offers travelers a portal where they may file a consumer complaint, a dashboard to report on specific carriers’ customer service, as well as a guide on traveler rights.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to email@example.com.