Buttigieg Teams Up With State Attorneys General to Investigate Airline Complaints

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Tuesday announced a new partnership with more than a dozen state attorneys general to investigate consumer complaints against airlines.

The partnership sets up a process for state attorney general’s offices to review complaints from travelers and then pass the baton to the federal Transportation Department, which could take enforcement action against airlines.

“The support that’s being offered by state attorney general’s offices means that our capacity to protect airline passengers is expanding,” Mr. Buttigieg said at Denver International Airport, where he appeared with Colorado’s attorney general, Phil Weiser, a Democrat who is among those joining the partnership.

The federal-state initiative is Mr. Buttigieg’s latest step aimed at improving protections for air travelers and ensuring that airlines are held accountable when they err. The Transportation Department has issued more than $164 million in penalties against airlines during his tenure, according to the agency. Mr. Buttigieg has also pressed airlines to seat children with their parents for free and to improve the services they offer to travelers who experience lengthy delays or cancellations.

The Transportation Department said attorneys general from 15 states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin — had signed agreements to be part of the partnership.

The attorneys general from the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have joined, the department said, bringing the total number involved to 18. Of those, 16 are Democrats and two are Republicans.

Under federal law, states are generally barred from enforcing their own consumer protection laws against airlines. State attorneys general have pushed for federal legislation that would empower them to take action against airlines, just as they can against companies in other industries.

The new partnership does not grant them that power. Instead, their offices would investigate complaints from travelers, and if they determine that federal consumer protection rules may have been violated, they could refer the matter to the Transportation Department under a fast-track process. The federal agency would then review the complaint and could take enforcement action.

“The ideal world would be one where states are given formal authority to enforce consumer protection law alongside the Department of Transportation,” Mr. Weiser said. “Congress has failed to act on that thus far, but we are not waiting for action.”

In a statement, Airlines for America, a trade group representing the country’s largest air carriers, said it regularly worked with the Transportation Department and state attorneys general to improve the flying experience for travelers.

“We appreciate the role of state attorneys general and their work on behalf of consumers,” the group said, adding that it looked forward to continuing to work with them.

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