Warren, Padilla call on Buttigieg to crack down on airline industry

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) wrote a letter on Tuesday to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Transportation Department general counsel John Putnam urging them to crack down on the airline industry as it experiences delays, cancellations and high prices.

“By utilizing its existing licensing and rulemaking authority, the Department can improve experiences for travelers and help bring down exorbitant ticket prices driven in part by anticompetitive mergers,” the senators wrote in their letter.

Warren and Padilla suggested that the Transportation Department work harder to protect consumers from “a wide range of rampant unfair practices” and create concrete rules for refunds after seriously delayed flights.

The senators also called on Buttigieg and Putnam to “impose fines on airlines for the delays and cancellations that result from their own poor planning” while combating “dwindling competition” among airlines.

Warren and Padilla cited statistics that 1 in 5 flights have arrived behind schedule in 2022 and that airlines have canceled almost 122,000 flights so far this year, more than the cancellations that occurred across the whole year in 2021.

“Airlines have also increased flight overbookings, causing passengers to be involuntarily denied boarding nearly three times as often this year than they were in 2018,” the senators wrote. “Unions are sounding the alarm that airlines are selling tickets for flights they know they will not be able to staff.”

They also pointed out skyrocketing prices in the airline industry that they said are in part fueled by mergers creating less competition in the market.

Prices for domestic flights have increased by almost 50 percent since January, the lawmakers said, adding that airlines have “failed to issue at least $10 billion in refunds for flight cancellations throughout the pandemic, despite being required to do so by federal law.”

Warren and Padilla specified that Buttigieg should begin disincentivizing airlines from engaging in “a wide range of rampant unfair practices” such as delaying and canceling flights by issuing fines “of up to $37,377 per violation.”

The Transportation Department should “fully utilize its statutory authority to protect consumers, promote competition in the airline industry and hold airlines accountable for delayed and canceled flights,” the senators concluded.