OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a bipartisan coalition of 38 attorneys general in urging Congress to pass legislation to enable states to better address consumer complaints against the airline industry. Over the past couple of years, attorneys general 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. Unfortunately, primary enforcement authority over the airline industry currently lies with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which has, to date, refused to take sufficient action. In the letter, the coalition urges Congress to authorize state attorneys general to enforce state and federal consumer protection laws governing the airline industry.
“It’s been a summer of nightmares for many Californians booking travel and hopping on a plane for the first time since the pandemic began,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Canceled flights. Long security lines. Unresponsive customer service. It’s flat-out unacceptable. As Attorney General, I’m committed to enforcing our state and federal consumer protection laws, but the airline industry currently has a carve out that leaves enforcement in the hands of the Department of Transportation. While Secretary Buttigieg has put airlines on notice in recent months, I urge Congress to recognize the severity of this problem and pass legislation allowing state attorneys general to join in the enforcement of airline consumer protection laws.”
Americans are justifiably frustrated that the federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry accountable and to swiftly investigate complaints submitted to DOT. The lack of action has spanned multiple administrations, and has been particularly notable during the coronavirus pandemic, as airlines pocketed stimulus dollars while failing to provide customers with timely refunds, among other transgressions.
As the airline industry has consolidated and competition has decreased, effective enforcement of consumer protection laws has become all the more important. Market consolidation limits consumers’ ability to make alternative choices when airlines raise airfares, reduce capacity, or lower the quality of service. State attorneys general retain authority to enforce federal antitrust laws against the airline industry and have exercised that authority to prevent further consolidation in the market. Last year, Attorney General Bonta joined the U.S. Department of Justice and six state attorneys general in filing an antitrust lawsuit against American Airlines and JetBlue related to their joint venture, the Northeast Alliance. States should have similar authority to enforce airline consumer protection laws.
In today’s letter, the coalition urges Congress to protect air travelers by allowing state attorneys general to enforce airline consumer protection laws. The coalition further urges Congress to consider shifting federal enforcement authority to an agency more focused on consumer protection, such as the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission. Flying is essential to millions of Americans as they go about their personal and professional lives, and a well-functioning airline industry that respects the rights of consumers is critical to local, state, and national economies.
Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Arizona, Colorado, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin in sending the letter.
A copy of the letter is available here.