Biden Administration and States Unite to Enhance Airline Consumer Protections

The Biden administration has recently announced a significant initiative aimed at enhancing consumer protections for airline customers. This initiative involves a partnership with state attorneys general to expedite investigations into complaints against airlines and ticket agents. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the announcement, highlighting the need for "force multipliers" to address the increasing number of complaints, especially given the record-breaking air travel that the industry has been experiencing. 


The authority to enforce passenger protections has traditionally been a federal responsibility. However, this new partnership will allow states to investigate complaints against airlines and refer them to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for priority review and enforcement action. Under this partnership, airlines will be legally required to respond to inquiries from state attorneys general. Failure to respond to these requests for information will result in the carriers being reported to the DOT. In return, the DOT will provide states with access to its consumer complaint database.

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This initiative comes in response to a sharp increase in complaints about U.S. airlines, despite a decrease in flight cancellations to a 10-year low. The Biden administration has been actively pushing for measures to expand consumer rights for airline passengers. These measures include proposed rules to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory when airlines are responsible for flight delays or cancellations. The administration has also urged carriers to eliminate junk fees, such as those charged for seating families together. Secretary Buttigieg has opened numerous investigations and imposed fines for carrier misbehavior. For instance, last year, the DOT imposed a $140 million fine on Southwest Airlines for a December 2022 holiday meltdown that led to 16,900 flight cancellations and stranded 2 million passengers.

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The partnership includes 18 states such as California, New York, Nevada, and Colorado, which host some of the busiest U.S. airports. Seven more states - Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington – have expressed interest in joining the initiative. This bipartisan agreement brings together attorneys general from both Republican and Democratic states. As passenger traffic in the United States is projected to reach an all-time high this year, this initiative represents a significant step towards ensuring that airlines are held accountable for their actions and that passenger rights are protected.

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