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Massachusetts AG Healey calls on Congress to require airlines to pay refunds to consumers

Christian Fernsby |
Attorney General Maura Healey announced her office joined a multistate coalition in urging Congress to put conditions on any future bailout of the airlines including paying refunds to consumers who cancel their flights because of the coronavirus pandemic and giving state attorneys general the authority to hold airlines accountable for harming consumers.

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In a letter sent to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate October 1, 40 attorneys general called on Congress to couple important consumer protection requirements with any new federal aid provided to the American airline industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.

The AG’s Office has received thousands of travel-related complaints since the coronavirus pandemic forced consumers to cancel trips and vacations and ground the airline industry to a halt.

The attorneys general write in the letter that while the CARES Act provided for strong taxpayer protections when it allocated federal relief for the airline industry, not all airlines are treating consumers fairly.

In fact, consumers have continued to complain to state attorneys general that airlines have failed to refund them in a timely manner or provide them with a way to redeem vouchers and credits when flights were cancelled or significantly delayed. These failures by the airline industry have led to consumers losing thousands of dollars, the attorneys general contend.

In the letter, the attorneys general call on Congress to include several important consumer protection provisions with any additional federal relief provided to airline carriers, including:

- 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 that refunds for flight cancellations be remitted in full and according to federal law and preventing delays in issuance of refunds or expirations that effectively cancel the value reimbursed.

- Moving authority for investigation of consumer complaints concerning airlines from the U.S. Department of Transportation to a consumer protection agency such as the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission.

- Authorizing state attorneys general to enforce federal airline consumer protections, thereby broadening consumer violation enforcement beyond a single federal agency. If enforcement authority is not granted to state attorneys general, requiring the federal enforcement authority to make its consumer complaint process more transparent, robust and easy to navigate.

Joining AG Healey in signing onto the letter are the attorneys general from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, 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.

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