Attorney General Curtis Hill, as part of a bipartisan coalition of 40 U.S. attorneys general, is urging Congress to enact new consumer protection measures for airline industry customers, whether they are part of a financial relief package or separate legislation.
The United States passenger and cargo airline industry received nearly $60 billion in federal stimulus funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In enacting the CARES Act, Congress included several taxpayer protections connected to federal stimulus funds received by the airline industry.
Since passage of the CARES Act, however, consumers continue to experience issues with certain airlines. Consumer complaints range from failing to expeditiously refund customers – as required by law – when flights were cancelled or significantly delayed; to failing to provide customers a means to promptly redeem vouchers or credits; to not providing a reliable way for customers to resolve such problems.
Congress is considering extending federal support by another six months and granting the industry an additional $28 billion in payroll support. In a letter sent to Congressional leaders, Attorney General Hill and the other attorneys general said that, in addition to financial relief for airline companies, Congress should enact the following protections:
• Requiring carriers that receive federal financial relief to provide full refunds to customers who voluntarily cancel their flight reservations for reasons related to COVID-19;
• Strengthening existing laws requiring refunds for flight cancellations to be remitted in full and according to federal law;
• Preventing delays in the issuance of refunds or expirations that effectively cancel the value reimbursed; and
• Authorizing state attorneys general to enforce federal airline consumer protection laws, thereby broadening consumer violation enforcement beyond a single federal agency.
“The coronavirus pandemic is not only hammering the airline industry, but it’s also affecting the passengers those airlines serve,” Attorney General Hill said. “Should Congress extend financial relief for airlines, they must also take action to further protect consumers, who have lost thousands of dollars in flight credits despite the initial taxpayer protections enacted.”
The issues consumers have faced are particularly egregious considering airlines have benefited from taxpayer-funded federal relief payments and loans, the attorneys general wrote in the letter.
Attorney General Hill and the other attorneys general recognize the importance of protecting the airline industry and its employees during this difficult time. However, they also believe that doing so is compatible with protecting consumers. If there is insufficient time or ability to include critical consumer protections as part of the enacted relief measures, then Congress should do so in subsequent legislation, the attorneys general write in the letter.
Finally, the coalition requests that if attorneys general are not provided dual consumer enforcement authority, the federal government should provide a more transparent and robust consumer complaint process. In particular, the attorneys general request authority for the consumer complaint investigation process be removed from the U.S. Department of Transportation and moved to a more consumer protection-focused agency, such as the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission.