By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. states and federal agencies should have new powers to investigate airline passengers complaints, a bipartisan group of 36 state attorneys general said Wednesday sharply criticizing air carriers https://www.naag.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Airline-Accountability-Consumer-Protection-Letter-Packet.pdf and the Transportation Department (USDOT).
Passenger airlines are exempt from Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversight and most state investigations for consumer complaints under a 1958 law. The state attorneys general are asking Congress to pass legislation granting them new authority to hold air carriers accountable.
In a letter to Congress led by Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Democratic Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and also signed by the District of Columbia and Guam, the states said they have received thousands of complaints from outraged airline passengers, and have relayed them to USDOT but seen little action.
"Americans are justifiably frustrated that federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry
accountable and to swiftly investigate complaints," the letter said.
A spokesperson for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did not immediately comment. Buttigieg has been pressing airlines to improve consumer service and told Reuters earlier this month that USDOT had completed 10 airline investigations and is pursuing enforcement actions.
Airlines for America, a group representing major airlines, did not immediately comment.
The states encouraged Congress "to consider shifting the authority for federal investigations of patron complaints concerning airlines from the USDOT to an agency more primarily focused on consumer protection" like the FTC or the Justice Department."
Airlines, which received $52 billion in pandemic bailout assistance, have been criticized for slow refunds. "The airline industry has failed their customers," the letter said.
Earlier this month, two key U.S. House Democrats proposed making it unlawful for airlines to offer flights if they know they lack sufficient staff or to cancel flights close to scheduled departures because of foreseeable staffing issues. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and David Cicilline proposed giving the FTC and state attorneys general new powers to act.
"Stronger enforcement of the airline industry is urgently needed," said Schakowsky. "The airline industry must be held accountable for the harm they are causing."
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chris Reese and Josie Kao)