Press release from the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut:

Oct. 7, 2020

Attorney General William Tong and a bipartisan coalition of 40 attorneys general, led by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, yesterday sent a letter urging Congress to enact new consumer protection measures for airline industry customers as part of or in connection with any further financial relief package provided to the airline industry.

“Consumers should not bear the financial burden of cancelling flights because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Attorney General Tong said. “Our office continues to get complaints of airlines refusing to refund customers for tickets they won’t be using and though we’ve secured a few refunds for consumers, we need Congress to compel airlines to issue refunds if they receive additional federal stimulus funds.”

The United States passenger and cargo airline industry received nearly $60 billion in federal stimulus funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Congress is currently considering extending federal support by another six months and granting the industry an additional $28 billion in payroll support.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Attorney General Tong his colleagues called on Congress to enact the following consumer protections either in conjunction with additional financial support to prevent airline industry layoffs and furloughs as soon as possible:

  • Requiring carriers that receive federal financial relief to provide full refunds to customers who voluntarily cancel their flight reservations for reasons related to COVID-19;
  • Strengthening existing laws requiring refunds for flight cancellations to be remitted in full and according to federal law, and preventing delays in the issuance of refunds or expirations that effectively cancel the value reimbursed; and
  • Authorizing state attorneys general to enforce federal airline consumer protection laws, thereby broadening consumer violation enforcement beyond a single federal agency.

In enacting the CARES Act, Congress included several taxpayer protections connected to federal stimulus funds received airline industry. Since passage of the CARES Act, however, the attorneys general note that consumers continue to experience issues with certain airlines. Consumer complaints range from failure to expeditiously refund customers, as required by law, when flights were cancelled or significantly delayed; to failing to provide customers a means to promptly redeem vouchers or credits; and to not providing a reliable way for customers to resolve such problems.

These problems resulted in consumers losing thousands of dollars in flight credits. The coalition notes that these examples are particularly disturbing considering airlines benefited from taxpayer-funded federal relief payments and loans. To be sure, the attorneys general recognize the importance of protecting the industry and its employees during this difficult time; they also believe that doing so is compatible with protecting consumers.

In Connecticut, the Office of the Attorney General has been working diligently to get consumers refunds if they are unable to travel due to cancellations or safety concerns. Hundreds of Connecticut residents have filed complaints with the office saying airlines changed or cancelled their flights without reimbursing them or refused to issue refunds. Securing these refunds has been challenging, as many airlines have refused.

One Connecticut man complained that Spirit Airlines changed his flight. The Office of the Attorney General helped him secure a refund of $509.54.

A Connecticut woman paid $1,529 for tickets on Jet Blue and the Office of the Attorney General assisted in her receiving a full refund for the amount she paid.

One traveler paid over $2,200 for flights on Delta, who changed her destination and flight time. The Office of the Attorney General helped get her a full refund.

Another Connecticut traveler requested a refund from Frontier airlines, who declined. The Office of the Attorney General helped him receive $365 credit on his card.

With the backing of 40 of the nation’s attorneys general, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) has chosen to endorse the letter as one of its official policy positions. Historically, NAAG endorses fewer than a dozen policies a year. The full text of the letter can be read here.

Joining Attorney General Tong are attorneys general from Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

This press release was produced by the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut. The views expressed here are the author’s own.