State AGs Want Power to Hit Airlines for Consumer Complaints

By: - September 6, 2022 12:00 am

Travelers make their way through a TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport this summer. State attorneys general say the federal government hasn’t done enough to address flight delays and cancellations. They want the power to handle complaints. Paul Hennessy/Sipa via The Associated Press

Just like airline passengers, state attorneys general are frustrated with flight delays, cancellations and the airlines’ sometimes bad treatment of customers.

Some 38 attorneys general, from both parties, sent a letter to Congress last week calling on congressional leaders to pass legislation that would give state attorneys general the power to go after the airlines for potential violations of both state and federal consumer protection laws.

The attorneys general say the U.S. Department of Transportation hasn’t done enough. In addition to wanting the power to pursue complaints on their own, the attorneys general are calling on Congress to allow complaints to go through a different federal agency “more primarily focused on consumer protection,” such as the Justice Department or the Federal Trade Commission.

“Over the past couple of years, our offices have received thousands of complaints from outraged airline passengers about airline customer service — including about systematic failures to provide required credits to those who lost travel opportunities during the pandemic,” the attorneys general, led by Colorado and Arizona, wrote. “The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, for example, received more consumer complaints about Frontier Airlines than any other company in 2020.”

The Department of Transportation did not reply to a Stateline request for comment.

But in a press release in late August, the DOT appeared to acknowledge that complaints are through the roof. “There was a 34.9% increase in air travel service complaints  from May to June, and complaints are nearly 270 percent above pre-pandemic levels,” the DOT said in the release

In their letter, the attorneys general said the “mistreatment of airline consumers is a bi-partisan issue—one that requires immediate action from federal lawmakers.  Customers booking airline tickets should enjoy a reasonable expectation of being treated fairly, respectfully, and consistently under the law throughout all interactions during their experience with the airline industry.”

Speaking as one of the leads on the issue, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, said in a statement that the stories of mistreatment are legion. “We have heard consistent complaints about certain airlines … leaving consumers in the lurch. Attorneys general are well positioned to protect consumers and bring responsible enforcement to this industry.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a statement: “Customer service in the airline industry began a sharp descent a couple of years ago, and it has yet to pull up.

“People spend a lot of their hard-earned money flying to visit family or going on vacations, but the airlines are more concerned about profit than serving their customers.”

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.