DOT Must Stop Treating Airlines Like Business Partners & Start Enforcing the Law

August 19, 2022 Press Release

Washington, D.C. — The American Economic Liberties Project released the following statement in response to news that Secretary Buttigieg has sent the ten largest US airlines a letter urging them to assist stranded and delayed passengers. 

“We passed the letter writing phase about 50,000 canceled flights ago, said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. Due to federal preemption, Secretary Buttigieg is the sole regulator of the airlines. Yet, even after a summer tsunami of cancellations, route closures, rising airfares, and sheer neglect for existing regulations, Secretary Buttigieg is still treating airlines like business partners instead of using his authority to enforce the law. While airline CEOs consider his letter, consumers are facing unprecedented delays, losing out on refunds they’re owed, and sleeping on terminal floors. If Secretary Buttigieg will not effectively fight these problems, it is time to empower policymakers who will.”

2022 has been an unprecedented year in air travel. More flights were cancelled in the first six months of 2022 (121,918) than in the entirety of 2021 (121,552). Despite skyrocketing complaints and excessive cancellations, the US Department of Transportation hasn’t issued so much as a $1 fine against any US airline for unpaid refunds or widespread flight disruptions. Instead, Secretary Buttigieg has sent a stern letter to the ten major US airlines urging them to correct their behavior, and has refused to take enforcement actions

Because of a federal preemption clause in the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, the USDOT shoulders the sole regulatory responsibility for the airline industry, meaning that citizens have fewer rights interacting with airlines than with virtually any other corporations, while state courts, state attorneys general, and state legislatures have virtually no oversight over airlines.

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The American Economic Liberties Project works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. Economic Liberties believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.