Travel Weekly: Government agencies propose sweeping changes for airlines

August 14, 2022 Media

With U.S. airlines facing withering public criticism for a summer full of poor operations, some industry observers view the timing of such announcements as politically driven.

“It’s good politics to beat up on people your constituents hate,” said Bryan Del Monte, president of the Aviation Agency, an advertising firm.

But analysts have mixed opinions on whether the proposals amount to a significant shift for government overseers who have been reluctant in recent years to impose their will on air carriers.

Bill McGee, senior fellow for aviation at the American Economic Liberties Project, a consumer advocacy group, said that while he welcomes the consideration of new regulation, he also views some of the recent DOT and FAA announcements as lip service.

“Quite frankly, on the enforcement side, the DOT under [secretary Pete] Buttigieg has been a tremendous disappointment,” McGee said.

McGee, too, recognized Buttigieg’s political acumen. But he sounded off on the DOT secretary for the department’s lack of enforcement action against airlines for what he says were rampant violations early in the pandemic of their requirement to provide refunds for flights they cancel.

The department has thus far fined only Air Canada over refund violations, though it says it is currently pursuing action against 10 other airlines. While McGee welcomed the stricter refund rules the DOT has proposed, he said that the process of codifying them as law will likely last beyond this presidential term.

“We are yet to see as much as a $1 fine on any U.S. airline for refunds in the last two and a half years,” he said. “How long does it take to conduct this investigation?”