Consumer advocates support federal review of air industry’s data collection practices

April 29, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Today, a coalition of seven consumer and public interest advocacy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting the agency’s review of airline and ticket agents’ data collection practices.

The coalition outlined several areas concerning passenger privacy that DOT should examine, including:

  • How airlines collect consumer data from their websites and mobile apps, including sensitive data like precise location information and web browsing activity
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to their mileage and rewards programs
  • How airlines collect and use consumer data in relation to the New Distribution Capability system

Additionally, the coalition urged DOT to explore permanent mechanisms for consumers to have better control over their own data, such as requiring aviation companies to follow data minimization principles, implementing transparency requirements around industry actors’ data practices, and creating tools for consumers to exclude themselves from those practices.

Airlines currently enjoy unique privileges that almost no other industry in the nation has. The U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and state governments are unable to hold air carriers accountable for violations of consumer protection and civil rights laws—only DOT has this authority.

The signatories to the letter are the American Economic Liberties Project, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Ed Perkins on Travel, FlyersRights, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and the National Consumers League. The full letter can be found here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Airline passenger advocates hail landmark junk fee rules

April 25, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Airline passenger rights advocacy organizations today hailed new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that will make it easier to obtain refunds for cancelled flights and ancillary services that aren’t provided. The groups also applauded the finalization of regulations that will make it easier for flyers to do apples-to-apples comparisons of flight costs. The groups, which supported passage of these new protections for more than four years, urged Congress to follow suit and include these protections in the forthcoming FAA reauthorization bill. 

“Too often, airlines promise one thing and fail to deliver it,” said National Consumers League CEO Sally Greenberg. “The law says that when this occurs, consumers should get a refund. Far too often, the airlines make the process of getting your money back unnecessarily difficult. Today’s rules promise to bring sanity to the refund process. In addition, the new rules on fee transparency will make it easier for consumers to get an accurate price for their flights upfront. This is a far better solution making consumers wait until the end of the ticket buying process to learn what their true cost will be.” 

“It has become painfully clear that the status quo is no longer working in air travel, and we are glad to see Secretary Buttigieg acknowledge that consumers deserve better,” said Erin Witte, director of consumer protection at Consumer Federation of America. “These rules will bring transparency to opaque ticket pricing, and they will put the responsibility for refunds where it belongs: on airlines, not consumers.” 

“It’s a shame that it takes actual rules to get airlines to do the right thing and take better care of their passengers,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog Director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “It’s important to remember that most Americans fly only once every 12 to 18 months. These rules will especially help those travelers who aren’t as familiar with their rights.” 

“We applaud the DOT’s move to require refunds for consumers —by default—when flights are cancelled or ‘significantly’ delayed,” said Ruth Susswein, Consumer Action’s Director of Consumer Protection. “This clear directive is sorely needed and a significant improvement for airline passengers.” 

“For years, domestic and foreign airlines both large and small have made it as hard as possible to give passengers well deserved refunds for disruptions they’ve caused or services they’ve failed to provide,” said William J. McGee, Senior Fellow for Aviation and Travel at the American Economic Liberties Project. “The DOT’s new rule is a watershed moment for passenger protection in the airline industry, making it easy and accessible for consumers to get relief when Too-Big-To-Care airlines run roughshod over them. This news follows a positive sea change in the DOT’s enforcement activity under the Biden administration, including supporting the DOJ’s successful JetBlue-Spirit merger challenge, a historic enforcement action against Southwest, and new efforts to empower state attorneys general to address consumer complaints. There’s more work to be done, but the DOT is showing that it’s getting serious about taking on corporate power across the airline industry—and we’re thrilled to see that.” 

The new rules come as Congress closes in on approval of legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The passenger rights groups are calling on leaders in the House and Senate to ensure that additional protections are put in place to ensure that a future DOT does not roll back these hard-won consumer protections. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL urges Congress to improve air travel as FAA reauthorization progresses

February 15, 2024

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – Last week, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee advanced the five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The legislation does contain some victories for consumers, but it does not contain the deep reforms of an uncompetitive industry that are sorely needed.

“Passengers are crying out to Congress to implement real reforms that make flying less miserable,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault. “The Senate Commerce Committee could have used its twice-a-decade opportunity to swing for the fences on behalf of the flying public. Unfortunately, they settled for a bunt single.”

NCL, in coalition with other consumer and passenger rights organizations, has called for stronger safeguards to be included in the FAA reauthorization bill for years. Last February, NCL and eight other advocacy groups sent a letter to House and Senate Commerce Committee leaders urging support for a range of critical reforms to the airline industry. Key among those demands was a change to allow state attorneys general to enforce consumer protection laws against airlines, something that federal law currently prohibits them from doing. Thirty-seven bipartisan state attorneys general have also supported this reform, which both the House of Representatives and the Senate have so far ignored in their bills.

“Congress is running out of time to get this right,” said Breyault. “We strongly urge members of the Senate to make protecting the flying public a bigger priority as this bill moves to a floor vote.”

Several of the passenger rights coalition’s other priorities were included in the bill reported out of the Senate Commerce Committee. These reforms include a requirement that children be seated with their family and caregivers without additional fees, a requirement that air travel vouchers not expire before five years, standards for refunds in the event of a delay or cancellation, minimum customer service call center requirements, and creating an assistant Secretary of Aviation Consumer Protection.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL statement on DOT’s fine against Southwest Airlines

December 18, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) landmark enforcement action against Southwest Airlines over the company’s operational meltdown during the 2022 holidays.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL’s Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud:

“Today’s DOT action sends an unambiguous signal to the airline industry that passengers’ time is valuable and there will be consequences for carriers that waste it. The unprecedented $140 million fine demonstrates that consumer protection remains a top priority under Secretary Buttigieg’s leadership. However, enforcement is just one tool in DOT’s toolbox. While we welcome today’s announcement, passengers should be protected regardless of which airline they choose to fly. This will only happen if DOT enacts strong rules to ensure that consumers are compensated when flights are delayed or cancelled, that refunds are processed without delay, and that unfair and deceptive practices and unfair methods of competition are policed vigorously. We look forward to continuing to work with DOT and the industry to make this a reality.”

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL supports President Biden’s nominee for Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration

October 3, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, D.C. – Today, the National Consumers League (NCL) urged the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm President Biden’s nominee for Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael G. Whitaker. Despite a growing number of problems under the FAA’s jurisdiction—including an alarming number of near-misses involving passenger aircraft—the Administration has lacked a Senate-confirmed Administrator for eighteen months. 

The following statement is attributable to NCL Chief Executive Officer Sally Greenberg: 

“The FAA has been without a permanent administrator for too long. Without strong leadership, the agency will struggle to fulfill critical consumer protection mandates, including Congress’s 2018 directive that the agency set minimum seat sizes on airplanes. The Senate should act to restore the full strength of the Administration and confirm Mr. Whitaker as FAA Administrator.”  

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

Consumer groups urge support for pro-passenger amendments to House FAA reauthorization bill 

July 17, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

Washington, D.C. – NCL submitted the below letter to House Speaker McCarthy and Leader Jeffries to urge support for pro-passenger amendments to House FAA reauthorization bill.

 

July 16, 2023

 

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House

United States House of Representatives H-232 , The Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Hakeem Jeffries Democratic Leader

United States House of Representatives 2433 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515

 

RE: Consumer groups urge support for pro-passenger amendments to House FAA reauthorization bill 

 

Dear Speaker McCarthy and Leader Jeffries:

The nine undersigned organizations represent the interests of the passengers whose $54 billion in taxpayer funds allowed the American airline industry to survive the pandemic. 1 More than 75 million times every month, these Americans rely on airlines for safe, affordable, and reliable air transportation. 2 The return to profitability of the industry is being powered by the spending of the passengers on whose behalf we advocate. 3

On Monday, the House Rules Committee will take up the FAA reauthorization bill; H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act. We urge you to use this twice-a-decade opportunity to stand up to the airlines and make sure that consumers see a return on their investment in the industry’s survival.

The bill that was reported out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 14 was a missed opportunity for the committee to address the need for important consumer protection reforms.4 Unfortunately, it also contains provisions that will result in less competition and fewer passenger protections than currently exist, such as the Section 701 language eliminating the Full Fare Advertising Rule. We urge you and your colleagues to use the consideration of the bill on the House Floor to remedy our concerns.

Toward this goal, we urge you and your colleagues in the House to SUPPORT the following amendments:

  • #25 – GARCIL_056 – Establishing an Assistant Secretary-led Office of Aviation Consumer Protection at the Department of Transportation.
  • #31 – PORTCA_097 Requiring the FAA Administrator to prohibit air carriers from reducing the size of passenger seats on air carriers until the Administrator issues a final rule establishing minimum dimensions for passenger seats.
  • #35 – PORTCA_100 Requiring air carriers to provide passengers experiencing a controllable significant delay or cancellation with an alternative flight, including on another air carrier if necessary, and codifying the existing requirement for airlines to provide a full cash refund if the passenger chooses not to travel after experiencing such a delay or cancellation.
  • #51 – DELUZI_018 – Directing the GAO to conduct a report on the effect of airline mergers for consumers.
  • #58 – GARCIL_058 – Establishing a minimum wage and benefit standard for such airport service workers at large, medium, and small hub airports.
  • #83 – ROSETN_040 Adding a member of the general public who has experienced three or more flight cancellations or delays in the previous twelve months to the Passenger Experience Advisory Committee.
  • #105 – GOTTHE_083 Requiring a display of the total cost of the air transportation, including all fees, as part of a payment summary of any airline ticket transaction.
  • #145 – STANAZ_034 Directing airlines to provide information on their website on the rights and responsibilities of both airlines and passengers regarding the availability of on-board wheelchairs, and requiring annual staff training on assisting qualified individuals with a disability on the use of on-board wheelchairs.
  • #169 – SCHAKO_046 – Striking the Section 701 language that would eliminate the Full Fare Advertising Rule.
  • #228 – JAYAPA_066 Requiring that, in the event of a flight being delayed by 3 hours or more due to a controllable flight disruption, a carrier offer: a rebooking for the next available flight using that carrier or its partner carrier; a meal or meal voucher; a hotel room and transportation to and from the hotel; and cash compensation.
  • #241 – WILLGA_046 Requiring a study and report on child safety in
  • #275 – DAVIKS_013 – Requiring DOT to add to their Airline Customer Service Dashboard a section on Fee Transparency.

American deserve an airline industry that works for them. We urge you to support these important pro-consumer and pro-competition reforms.

 

Sincerely,

National Consumers League

American Economic Liberties Project

Business Travel Coalition

Consumer Action

Consumer Federation of America

EdOnTravel.com

FlyersRights.org

Travelers United

U.S. Public Interest Research Group

 

1 Shepardson, David. “U.S. airlines to defend $54 billion COVID-19 government lifeline,” Reuters. (December 15, 2021) Online: https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/us-airlines-defend-54-billion- covid-19-government-lifeline-2021-12-15/

2 Bureau of Transportation Statistics. “March 2023 US Airline Enplanements Reach Within One Percent of All- Time Monthly High in 2019.” (June 8, 2023) Online: https://www.bts.dot.gov/newsroom/march-2023-us- airline-enplanements-reach-within-one-percent-all-time-monthly-high-2019

3 Farge, Emma. “Airlines see return to profit in 2023, clash with airports,” Reuters. (December 6, 2022) Online: https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/airlines-return-profitability-2023-iata-2022- 12-06/

4 House Committee on Transporation and Infrastructure. “T&I Committee Advances Bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Bill,” Press release. (June 14, 2023) Online: https://transportation.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=406734

 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL applauds DOT for proposed passenger compensation requirements

May 8, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

Washington, D.C. – The National Consumers League (NCL) today applauded the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) announcement that it will begin a rulemaking to require airlines to provide compensation to passengers affected by controllable flight cancellations and delays of more than three hours. Additionally, air carriers would have to provide meals, hotel accommodation, and rebooking when necessary. 

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, National Consumers League Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud: 

An airline ticket should not be a lottery ticket. Unfortunately, current industry practices too often make it a game of chance where consumers risk getting stranded by airline meltdowns. DOT’s proposed rule recognizes a very simple truth: passengers’ time is valuable, and they should be compensated when airlines waste it. NCL has long fought for such a requirement and we are pleased that DOT has responded to our advocacy. 

NCL has been a leading voice for expanding consumers’ rights in air travel. The League’s latest aviation consumer protection priorities can be found here.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

National Consumers League statement on United family seating policy change

February 21, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Consumers League (NCL) today welcomed United Airlines’ announcement that it will phase out family seating fees in its Basic Economy fare class. The move positions United as a leader in an industry that has long claimed that proposals to prohibit family seating fees are unnecessary. United’s change comes after years of advocacy by NCL and other advocates as well as more recent pressure from the Department of Transportation, Congress, and the Biden White House.  

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director:  

“While we are still awaiting all the details, United’s announcement is encouraging news. Budget-conscious families have for too long been asked to choose between saving money on their flights and the safety of their young children. While welcome, we still need common-sense consumer protection regulation that protects all passengers regardless of which airline they fly. Secretary Buttigieg, President Biden, and consumer champions in Congress should not take their eyes off the ball when it comes to putting family seating protections into laws and regulations.” 

Last week, NCL endorsed the Families Fly Together Act, sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY). The bill would prohibit airlines from imposing any monetary charges on families that want to sit together during a flight. NCL has also called for such a prohibition to be included in the Federal Aviation Administration’s upcoming reauthorization legislation. 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL urges Senate committee to hold airlines accountable for operational meltdowns

February 9, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing focused on Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown in December 2022. The committee should use this opportunity to not only hold Southwest accountable but to also address the underlying causes of and remedies for chronic cancellations and delays that affect millions of passengers annually. 

The following statement is attributable to NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault: 

“Instead of ensuring that thousands of travelers and employees weren’t stranded for the holidays, Southwest spent $5.6 billion on stock buybacks. But Southwest is not an outlier. Putting short-term profits ahead of long-term investments that prioritize the needs of passengers has been a hallmark of the industry for decades. This is one symptom of a broken marketplace where four carriers control over 80 percent of domestic flights. America’s airline passengers, whose tax dollars bailed out the airline industry to the tune of more than $50 billion, deserve better. The Senate Commerce Committee must thoroughly investigate what happened at Southwest and reform our air travel industry to ensure such crises never happen again.” 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit nclnet.org.

NCL urges House Transportation Committee to demand answers from FAA on aviation safety

February 7, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing focused on the need to enhance America’s aviation safety system. The committee calls the U.S. system a “gold standard” for the world. Unfortunately, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) previously sterling record in this area has been badly tarnished by the Boeing 737 Max scandal, operational meltdowns, and scary near-misses. 

In particular, Congressional leaders must hold the FAA accountable for its failure to implement statutorily-required minimum dimensions for passenger seats. For decades, air carriers have reduced seat sizes across all fare classes. The result is that millions of travelers must fly under conditions that the FAA’s own advisory has deemed unsafe.  

Fortunately, thanks to advocacy by NCL and other passenger rights organizations, momentum is growing for reform. In November, NCL along with a coalition of six public interest groups, filed comments with the FAA calling for a moratorium on airlines reducing seat sizes until the FAA can update its emergency evacuation standards. In December, Senators Baldwin and Duckworth introduced legislation requiring the FAA to update evacuation standards to reflect the modern cabin environment. 

The following statement is attributable to NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault: 

“Shrinking seats on airplanes have serious consequences, from impeding emergency evacuations to raising the risk of serious negative health effects. The FAA is more than three years overdue in complying with the law and addressing this problem. As the only agency in the nation responsible for aviation safety, the House Transportation Committee must ensure that the FAA does not continue to slow-walk critical aviation safety issues like setting minimum seat size standards.  

We are disappointed that the first hearing on this issue in the new Congress will not feature any witnesses representing those who are most directly impacted by such safety oversight – namely, passengers. Nonetheless, NCL urges Congress to use this opportunity to ensure the executive branch’s compliance with air safety mandates.” 

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization.  Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad.  For more information, visit https://nclnet.org.