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Following recent reports of flight delays and cancellations impacting travelers nationwide, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) penned a letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the department to hold the airlines accountable and crack down on service disruptions.

 

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In 2022 alone, one out of every five flights has been delayed, totaling over 800,000 delayed flights, and more than 100,000 have been cancelled, all while the price of airline tickets has climbed by 38%.

 

These disruptions come despite Congress providing more than $50 billion in COVID-19 relief to help the airline industry bounce back from the pandemic, which many airlines have used to offer early retirement packages that lead to tens of thousands of airline workers, including many pilots, retiring and leaving the workforce.

 

“While the airline industry faced an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided significant funds to ensure the continuation of service. The Department must take action to address these shortcomings in travel ability for all Americans,” said Rep. Axne. “The airline industry failed to adequately prepare for the post-pandemic world we are now entering, and in fact cut staff and capacity to create many of these issues, despite aid being provided to prevent this, and now we must act.”

 

The full letter can be found here and below.

 

Secretary Pete Buttigieg

Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, D.C. 20590

 

Secretary Buttigieg,

As we saw over this past holiday weekend, countless American’s travel plans were disrupted due to widespread airline cancellations and delays. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated issue. In 2022 alone, one out of every five flights have been delayed, totaling over 800,000 delayed flights, and more than 100,000 were cancelled, all while the price of airline tickets has climbed by 38%. This last holiday weekend alone, nearly 17,000 flights were delayed and 1,400 were canceled altogether.

These significant disruptions in service have stranded thousands and affected holiday travel and family plans for many of my constituents in Iowa. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has jurisdiction and authority to ensure consumers and protected by unfair and unreliable air service and I respectfully urge you to use all resources at your disposal to help prevent further flight cancelations and travel complications from occurring.

Congress stepped up on a bipartisan basis to provide COVID-19 relief funding to the airline industry, with more than $50 billion of support during the pandemic. I believe the industry has a responsibility to fulfill its end of the bargain by making sure their services are rendered efficiently while their staff are not overworked. Unfortunately, many airlines used those funds to offer early retirement packages that lead to tens of thousands of airline workers, including many pilots, retiring and leaving the workforce. At a minimum, this goes against the spirit of that assistance, which was provided to ensure airlines would continue providing their existing service and keep workers on their payroll.

As travel restrictions have lessened, the industry should have been prepared to resume a full schedule of operations without these increasing number of delays and cancellations that are affecting American’s pocketbooks. While airlines have thus far been unwilling to use the aid they received to fulfill their obligations to the American public, I strongly believe the DOT should use its authority to spur action and reverse the worsening service we are seeing across the country.

The Department of Transportation has the authority to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, and predatory practices. Airlines selling tickets while knowing they would have to cancel thousands clearly meets this bar. In 2009, the Department of Transportation instituted a policy that charges airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for every flight that is cancelled due to inadequate staffing or if planes are left on the tarmac for hours. This 2009-era policy penalized airline companies for remaining on the tarmac and was also expanded in 2011 to fairly compensate passengers for being bumped off flights. As a result of these travel complications, the Department should take all necessary steps to fix the issue, including by looking at past precedent for guidance.

Finally, while these disruptions are primarily occurring at larger airport hubs, this decrease in service is also affecting our small market airlines in our rural communities. Many small market airports will soon lose passenger service from major airlines and their regional partners, resulting in decreased service in communities without easy back up options.

While the industry faced an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided significant funds to ensure the continuation of service. The Department must take action to address these shortcomings in travel ability for all Americans. The airline industry failed to adequately prepare for the post-pandemic world we are now entering, and in fact cut staff and capacity to create many of these issues, despite aid being provided to prevent this, and now we must act.

While I believe the staff reductions at airlines are a significant cause of these delays and selling tickets to flights airlines know they won’t be able to make is unacceptable, if there are other issues you believe could help alleviate the issues my constituents are facing, let me know. I am happy to work with the Department to ensure additional oversight is conducted and actions are taken to ensure airlines address the issue without furthering burdening consumers.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Author: Press Release

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