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National News

New DOT partnership will streamline airline consumer complaints in Colorado, other states

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by Lindsey Toomer, Colorado Newsline
April 16, 2024

A new partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation and a bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general aims to streamline efforts to resolve airline consumer complaints.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced the program at Denver International Airport Tuesday. The program comes in response to the record numbers of airline customer complaints their offices are fielding.

“It’s very important for passengers to know that they’re getting a fair deal and for airlines to know that they will be held accountable if they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain,” Buttigieg said. “The support that’s being offered by the state attorney generals offices means that our capacity to protect airline passengers is expanded.”

Historically, the federal DOT has been solely responsible for resolving complaints and enforcing protections for airline consumers. Now, for the 25 states and territories that agreed to participate, their attorney general will take complaints and attempt to resolve them with the company and the consumer. If necessary, the attorney general will refer the complaint to the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection. 

“We’re going to hold accountable companies who are breaking the law and undermine travel experience and we’re going to make sure to send an important message: Consumers have rights, they deserve to be treated fairly,” Weiser said. “This enforcement is going to encourage and enable and reward responsible companies who follow the rules. That is the way it should be.”

The agreement between Colorado and the DOT will last for two years, and both parties will have the option to extend the agreement if necessary. Buttigieg said states have been receiving increased airline-related complaints, particularly following the pandemic, but prior to this agreement they weren’t able to help other than by directing consumers to the DOT. 

Weiser said that prior to the agreement, if his office received complaints about an airline, it could only pass the complaint along to the DOT, and wouldn’t receive updates on whether the issues were resolved. Now his office will have a direct line of communication to make sure complaints from Colorado are properly handled.

Buttigieg said the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection has a team of about three dozen people who have to sort through tens of thousands of complaints. He said this partnership will help that team process complaints more quickly and efficiently. 

“This partnership is new, but really it has roots in the responsibilities of the federal government to protect airline passengers that go back at least to the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, which was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt,” Buttigieg said. “After the deregulation that replaced that framework, it became even more important for us to be proactive with guardrails to make sure that people are treated fairly by airlines.”

Others that signed an agreement with the DOT include California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin. States that have expressed their intent to participate include Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington.

Buttigieg said he could see the program going nationwide, given that it already has bipartisan support and that there are airline consumers “who need that support in every state and territory.” Weiser said he would encourage other state attorneys general to participate as well.

This story is republished from CO Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.