Airlines Should Be Fined for Excessive Delays, NY’s Top Law Enforcer Says

The US Department of Transportation should increase its oversight and regulation of airlines to address a skyrocketing number of flight issues in airports across the country, New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made public Wednesday.

Ms. James called for investigations, potentially leading to fines if airlines deliberately book flights despite staff shortages.

“Airlines knowingly advertising and booking flights they do not have the adequate staff to operate are flying in the face of the law,” she said.

Flight cancellations have hit New York-area airports particularly hard. Nearly 8% of departures from Newark Liberty International and 7.2% of departures from LaGuardia Airport during the period from June 1 to June 12 were canceled, according to FlightAware LLC. Both figures were steep rises from 2019.

A spokeswoman for Ms. James said her office isn’t contemplating taking any enforcement action on its own.

Lawmakers have applied pressure on Mr. Buttigieg over ongoing flight problems, urging him to consider fines and other legal action to make delays and cancellations more costly for the airlines. The industry, which cut large numbers of staff as the coronavirus pandemic grounded travelers, has strained to keep up with a resurgent travel demand.

New York Attorney General Letitia James


Photo:

Lev Radin / Zuma Press

US Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) And Alex Padilla (D., Calif.) Last week urged Mr. Buttigieg to meet persistent failures for flights to depart on time — or at all — with fines, accusing airlines that sell tickets on flights they know are unlikely to operate of effectively deceiving consumers.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) In June similarly called for refunds for short delays, and for fines on airlines for delays over two hours. He also demanded fines of $ 55,000 per passenger for cancellations that stem from staffing problems known to an airline.

Asked for comment, a Transportation Department representative said airlines that fail to meet their responsibilities “will be held accountable.”

The Transportation Department on Wednesday proposed rules that would require airlines to refund passengers for delays in certain circumstances, but those rules didn’t go as far as some lawmakers had demanded.

Write to Richard Vanderford at richard.vanderford@wsj.com

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