Gillibrand calls for investigation into airline delays, canceled flights, ‘misuse of taxpayer funding’

STATEN ISLAND, NY – US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democratic senators are urging federal agencies to investigate whether airlines are engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.

Gillibrand signed on to letters written to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission asking them to investigate.

During the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), the federal government gave $54 billion in taxpayer money to retain pilots and staff, which airlines said were needed to fulfill flights and reduce flight delays and cancellations.

Despite the funding, airline customers have seen flight delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and logged thousands of complaints; airlines have also been accused of scheduling flights they know they cannot fulfill.

Between January and May of this year, there were already more than twice as many canceled flights within, into, or out of the United States than during the same time period in 2018, as well as more than 135,000 delayed flights during the same time period compared to 2018.

During one weekend alone — the Juneteenth/Father’s Day weekend — more than 35,000 flights were canceled or delayed.

Yet, despite all the issues customers face, the cost of airline tickets have never been higher.

“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 Gillibrand.

“In other words, Americans are suffering the consequences and paying more out of pocket for inferior service. It is evident that airlines have prioritized higher profit margins over quality customer service, which is why I’m calling on the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate major airlines that may be engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices,” Gillibrand said .

Specifically, lawmakers are asking the Department of Transportation and the Federal Trade Commission to focus on three key areas:

  • Whether airlines are knowingly engaging in unfair or deceptive business practices by offering flights that they know are logistically impossible to execute;
  • Whether airlines are properly informing consumers of the ability to be compensated for significantly delayed or canceled flights;
  • Whether airlines are properly compensating consumers for significantly delayed or canceled flights.

“Not only are passengers suffering, but crew members are as well. All the while, the airlines themselves are posting substantial profits. In the second quarter of 2022, airlines had profits above pre-pandemic levels—which is more than enough to sustain, retain, and retrain essential workers. Further, these profits are on top of the more than $50 billion they received from the Federal government in COVID-19 relief bills,” the letter to the Department of Transportation and Federal Trade Commission says.

It continues, “Taken together, it is evident that airlines have prioritized higher profit margins and increasing shareholder wealth over quality customer service and the well-being of their workforce.”

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