The American Prospect: Pete Buttigieg’s Feeble Policy on Flight Cancellations

August 23, 2022 Media

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been widely criticized for allowing airlines to cancel flights with no consequences. The big carriers sell tickets for flights that they know they lack the crews to serve, a practice that then leads to mass cancellations. The airlines have successfully duped passengers into taking credits for future flights, rather than offering cash refunds as required by law, giving the airlines billions of dollars in cash flow that belongs to their customers.

On August 3, Buttigieg finally issued a draft rule for public comment, compelling airlines to give cash refunds to passengers whose flights are canceled and providing clearer definitions. It sounds great, but in practice the rule could actually give the airlines two more years to continue their anti-consumer behavior.

Bill McGee, who follows airline issues for the American Economic Liberties Project, points out that Buttigieg could do a great deal more under existing law, which prohibits deceptive practices. He could levy fines large enough to quickly change airline behavior. “Not a single U.S. airline has been fined so much as $1 by the DOT over refunds,” McGee told me.

As I was talking to McGee, a colleague of his had his flight canceled—and was offered a voucher but no refund, proving the point. Matt Stoller, of the American Economic Liberties Project, received a text message from Delta announcing the flight cancellation and adding, “If you prefer not to rebook your trip, your ticket value will automatically be available as an eCredit that can be used towards a future Delta ticket.”

“It’s a sign of disrespect for Buttigieg,” Stoller told me. And why not—the airlines have nothing to fear from the transportation secretary.