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Airline passengers need stronger protections from excessive fees, flight cancellations, and unfair refund practices

CR calls on Congress & DOT to hold airlines accountable for treating passengers fairly as Senate Commerce Committee holds oversight hearing on airline industry

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – In advance of a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing today on the airline industry, Consumer Reports is calling on policymakers to hold the carriers accountable for treating passengers fairly. CR is urging Congress and the Department of Transportation to protect consumers from excessive fees, widespread flight delays and cancellations, and unfair refund practices.

The Senate Commerce Committee’s oversight hearing will examine the impact of the taxpayer-funded Payroll Support Program, passed by Congress to keep airline industry staff on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic. A webcast of the Wednesday hearing is available here beginning at 2:30 pm ET.

“Taxpayers foot the bill for a massive $58 billion airline industry bailout, but are still having to put up with major flight disruptions and operational failures,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “To add insult to injury, travelers are frustrated by inadequate customer service and gouged by unreasonable airline fees everywhere they turn. It’s time to hold the airline industry accountable with new rules that ensure passengers are treated fairly and fees are kept reasonable and transparent.”

Consumer Reports supports the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act, which would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonably high fees for basic services like checking bags, seat selection, or ticket changes. The bill also requires the Department of Transportation to review other fees collected by airlines and to prevent carriers from charging parents an extra fee to sit together with their young children.

In November, CR sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg calling on him to investigate recent flight cancellations and to hold airlines accountable when they fail to minimize such disruptions. CR’s letter points out that media reports indicate recent flight complications are due, at least in part, to airline staff shortages caused by furloughs, encouraged early retirements, and outsourcing – despite the fact that the taxpayer bailout was provided to prevent airline labor shortages. These problems have been compounded by the airlines’ failure to provide adequate customer service; properly staffed call centers; and prompt re-bookings and refunds. In fact, after COVID-19 hit in 2020, complaints to DOT over flight refunds reached a record high and increased by 57 times over 2019.

Experts:  William J. McGee, George Slover

Michael McCauley, michael.mccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537