DOT Teams Up With State Attorney Generals to Investigate Airline Consumer Violations

Skift Take

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the partnership would fast-track the process for resolving passenger complaints.

The Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it would partner with 18 state attorney generals to investigate airline consumer violations.

The program, called the “Airline Passenger Protection Partnership,” would expand the DOT’s oversight, since it would create a new system that fast-tracks airline misconduct cases.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said currently only the federal government could handle passenger complaints and enforce passenger protections. 

“This is a partnership that will greatly improve the DOT’s capacity to hold airlines accountable and to protect passengers,” Buttigieg said in a call with reporters. 

Attorney generals from states like California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island are a part of this partnership. Other states like Massachusetts, Vermont, Minnesota and Washington have also expressed interest in joining the partnership, the DOT said. 

A Fast-Tracked Process

Buttigieg said attorney generals will play a more direct role in resolving passenger issues. When an office receives a complaint, it will investigate. And if the attorney general determines that an airline is not cooperating with a state investigation or that it violated the law, the complaint will then be referred to the DOT. 

The Transportation Secretary said the program would allow the department to resolve passenger issues more quickly, since the state offices would have done “much of the legwork.”

“Whenever something does go wrong, there has to be accountability,” Buttigieg said. “And we know that with that accountability comes better practices on the part of airlines that have the right incentive to do the right thing and prevent these problems from happening in the first place.”

A Bullish DOT on Consumer Protections

This initiative is the latest in the Biden administration’s attempt to bolster consumer protections in the airline industry. The DOT launched a dashboard that highlights which airlines offer accommodations when airline issues cause a flight to be significantly delayed or canceled. 

Another major issue for the Biden administration has been “junk fees.” The DOT proposed a rule that would mandate airlines to disclose ancillary, change and cancellation fees. The DOT previously told Skift it would issue a final rulemaking on the matter in April, but did not offer a clear timeline. 

The DOT also submitted a proposal to Congress on no-fee family seating, but it’s unclear when or if Congress will pass the bill. 

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