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CR applauds DOT for new rule that helps restore its authority to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive airline practices

Biden Administration reverses harmful Trump Administration policy

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2022 – Consumer Reports praised the Department of Transportation today for issuing a new rule to begin restoring its authority to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive airline industry practices.  The new rule takes an important first step in reversing a policy adopted in the waning days of the Trump Administration that narrowed the agency’s authority and imposed unduly involved procedures.  Consumer Reports opposed that rule, and has been urging the Department to revisit and fix it.

“This is a welcome and much-needed action on the part of Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the DOT,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “The Department is the only sheriff in town in a position to address airline practices that have frustrated consumers —including withholding billions of dollars in flight refunds, giving substandard treatment to passengers during the recent spate of tens of thousands of canceled flights, and imposing add-on fees for families with young children to sit together inflight. We’re encouraged that DOT is now acting to restore its enforcement authority so that it can effectively deter these unfair and deceptive practices.”

The DOT’s new rule amends the new hearing procedures imposed by the Trump Administration so that, if an airline or other party requests a hearing on a new rule declaring a practice to be unfair or deceptive, the hearing procedures are expedited to avoid unnecessary delay and cost. The Department also announced its intention to amend the definitions of unfair and deceptive practices adopted by the Trump Administration rule so as to not unduly constrict its ability to protect consumers from airline practices that are harming them.

DOT plays the critical role in protecting consumers in air travel, due to the federal preemption clause of the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act that eliminates virtually all authority of state courts, legislatures, and attorneys general. In comments filed jointly with Consumer Federation of America and U.S. PIRG in May 2020, Consumer Reports stated: “The Department’s authority to determine and take enforcement action against unfair and deceptive practices under 49 U.S.C. 41712 is a critical means of protecting consumers.”

Experts: William J. McGee and George Slover

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