Padilla, Gillibrand, Blumenthal Push Takes Flight: Department of Transportation Takes Critical Steps to Hold Airlines Accountable

CALIFORNIA — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are commending actions the Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking to hold airlines accountable in the midst of record-breaking flight cancellations and chaos at airports. Last month, the senators sent a letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the agency to investigate whether major airlines are engaging in unfair or deceptive business practices. In his response, Secretary Buttigieg described the investigations and enforcement actions that DOT is pursuing to hold airlines accountable, including an active investigation into the refund practices of more than ten airlines. Additionally, Secretary Buttigieg stated that DOT will soon begin rulemaking to ensure that customers receive full and prompt refunds for significantly delayed or canceled flights.

“I’m glad to see the Department of Transportation heeding our calls to hold airlines accountable and working to ensure that travelers are promptly refunded when they face significant delays or cancelations,” said Senator Padilla. “Taxpayer money kept airlines afloat during the pandemic, and as travel has picked up this summer, overall airline service has been abysmal. We must continue working to protect travelers and hold airlines to a higher standard.”

“The Department of Transportation’s actions are a huge win for travelers in the United States. Across the country, Americans are feeling the impact of severe airline delays, canceled flights, and lost luggage. As travel has ramped up during the summer months, our airports have become especially chaotic and ineffective, and yet, airlines are still reporting massive revenues,” said Senator Gillibrand. “That’s why I worked together with Senators Blumenthal and Padilla to call on the Department of Transportation to investigate major airlines that may be engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices. I am proud to announce that DOT is taking critical steps to address the refund practices of several airlines, and I look forward to continuing our work with DOT to ensure the investigations and rulemaking are robust and complete.”

“This action is a solid step—hopefully followed promptly by more—to probe airlines’ refund practices and work to protect consumers as we have urged,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Flight delays, unexpected cancellations, and lost luggage have frustrated travelers while airlines have deflected blame. Consumers deserve fairness in the skies, and I will continue pushing for fast, firm federal action to remedy airline travel chaos.”

Senator Padilla also sent a letter with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to urge the U.S. Department of Transportation to fully utilize its statutory authority to protect consumers, promote competition in the airline industry, and hold airlines accountable for delayed and canceled flights.

During the pandemic, Congress authorized $54 billion in taxpayer-funded relief to help retain pilots and critical staff to keep airlines afloat and ready for the return to travel. Now, they are failing to fulfill flights promised to customers, and in some cases, allegedly scheduling flights that they know cannot be staffed. DOT’s response to the senators’ call will help bring accountability back to consumers in transit.