• Thu. Aug 4th, 2022

Warren and Padilla call on Buttigieg to crack down on airline industry’s ‘rampant unfair practices’

ByKimberly A. Brochu

Jul 26, 2022

Calling on the Biden administration to use its authority to protect American travelers from “widespread unfair practices” by commercial airliners, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Alex Padilla wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday condemning exorbitant costs, frequent flight cancellations and delays, and a lack of transparency in the industry.

It is well within the power of the Department of Transportation to rein in the airlines, the two Democrats stressed.

“The Department of Transportation has the power to take meaningful action to hold airlines accountable for avoidable delays and cancellations and stem the tide of airline consolidation,” Padilla (California) and Warren (Massachusetts) wrote. “By using its existing licensing and regulatory authority, the department can improve traveler experiences and help bring down sky-high ticket prices, in part due to anti-competitive mergers.”

“There is both political and moral argument to argue that it is necessary to aggressively target airlines.”

Lawmakers noted that 1 in 5 flights were delayed this year, while nearly 122,000 flights were canceled in the first half of 2022, more than the total number of cancellations for the entire previous year.

As Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, told the Los Angeles Times Airline executives last week scheduled far more flights this summer than they can actually accommodate in a bid to take advantage of surging travel demand after the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

“A major contributor is that demand is coming back so quickly and airlines are rushing to try and meet it and over-promising and putting in too much capacity,” Nelson told the newspaper.

Overbooking flights has been a practice used by airlines for decades, Warren and Padilla acknowledged in their letter, but “as passengers are increasingly being kicked off flights,” they said, “the department could use his authority to end this practice altogether.”

Currently, the Department of Transportation only requires that “the fewest possible number of people” be denied boarding, but new rules and the threat of steep fines for frequently overbooked flights could prompt airlines to end boarding. this practice, Warren and Padilla said.

Last week, Buttigieg appeared on “PBS Newshour” to defend the department’s approach to the airline industry, noting that it “issued the toughest fine in the history of our consumer protection program” – although, as the American Economic Liberties Project underlinethe $25 million fine was imposed on Air Canada and has been significantly reduced.

Under federal law, the department has the authority to prevent airlines from engaging in “unfair or deceptive practices” and Buttigieg “may direct airlines and ticket agents to cease such practices and may issue fines of up to $37,377 per violation,” Warren and Padilla said. .

The senators also touched on a root cause of sky-high airline ticket costs, with prices skyrocketing 47% since January: “increasing consolidation and shrinking competition.”

Forty-four years after the deregulation of the industry, only four airlines – American, Delta, United and Southwest – control 80% of the market.

“The Secretary of Transportation must grant these airlines ‘economic authority’ to operate and must approve any transfer of operating certificates to another carrier, authority which gives the Secretary the power to de facto block mergers,” they said. said Warren and Padilla. “Transfers of certificates are permitted only when the Secretary determines that a transfer would be ‘in the public interest’.”

“By using its statutory power to block transfers that are inconsistent with the public interest and that would harm national competition,” they added, “the department could halt anti-competitive airline mergers.”

The letter comes a month after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, called on Buttigieg to impose heavy fines on airlines that regularly schedule flights that they cannot adequately staff. .

As Ross Barkan wrote at New York magazine last week, a concerted effort by Buttigieg to hold airlines accountable for their unfair practices would not only help millions, but could “potentially bolster the president’s position in a very difficult re-election fight in 2024”:

The federal government wields extraordinary influence over the airlines and could, at any time, severely crack down on their behavior. Unlike other large companies, private airlines are not particularly popular with Americans. Amazon or Disney evoke warm feelings; Delta and American Airlines conjure up hellish waits in overcrowded terminals and seats with barely enough legroom for toddlers. There are both political and moral arguments to demonstrate the need to aggressively target airlines.

Alex Sammon from The American Perspective expressed disbelief that the Biden administration has so far resisted calls from progressives to reform the industry.

“Buttigieg’s commitment to the traditional Democratic school of never angering a single person in power supersedes his own self-promotional impulse,” he tweeted.

As head of the Department of Transportation, Warren and Padilla said, Buttigieg can and should “stop these harmful consumer practices and safeguard competition in the industry.”