As passenger complaints skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration’s DOT finalized a rule that weakened its own consumer protection authority

Washington (March 11, 2021) — Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), urging the agency to overturn an ill-advised rule — finalized in the waning days of the Trump administration — that needlessly restricts the DOT’s own authority to protect air travelers from harm and abuse. Specifically, the lawmakers’ letter requests that the DOT undo a rule that created new, narrower definitions for what counts as an “unfair” and “deceptive” business practice under the DOT’s aviation consumer protection statute, which authorizes the agency to investigate and take action against airline policies that harm consumers.

If left intact, this Trump-era rule will limit the DOT’s ability to address long-standing consumer protection issues in aviation, such as lost baggage, oversold flights, and tarmac delays. Additionally, the rule could prevent the DOT from resolving passenger complaints that have skyrocketed by more than 500 percent compared to the year before the coronavirus pandemic, driven largely by complaints arising out of airlines often refusing to refund payments for unused tickets during the global health emergency.

“We believe that [this rule] unnecessarily restricts the DOT’s consumer protection authority, undermines existing passenger protections, and limits your agency’s ability to hold airlines accountable,” write the lawmakers in their letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “By contrast, overturning this rule will restore the DOT’s authority to address both systemic problems in aviation and new challenges the pandemic has created.”

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

Today’s letter follows another sent to the Trump administration in June 2020, in which Senators Markey, Cantwell, Baldwin, and Blumenthal urged the DOT to discard this anti-consumer rule before it was finalized. Both letters argue that the DOT needs to reverse course and significantly step up aviation consumer protection in light of long-standing abuses and record-breaking passenger complaints.