The Axne representative at the Ministry of Transport: fixes widespread airline delays and cancellations

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

In 2022 alone, one in five flights were delayed, totaling more than 800,000 delayed flights, and more than 100,000 were canceled, while the price of plane tickets soared by 38%.

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

“As the airline industry faced an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided significant funding to ensure the continuation of service. The Department must take action to address these deficiencies in the ability to travel of all Americans,” said Representative Axne. “The airline industry has failed to adequately prepare for the post-pandemic world we are now entering, and has in fact reduced staff and capacity to create many of these problems, despite the help provided to prevent this, and now we must act.”

The full letter can be found here and below.

Secretary Pete Buttigieg

transport department

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, D.C. 20590

Secretary Buttigieg,

As we saw over the past holiday weekend, countless American travel plans have been disrupted due to widespread airline cancellations and delays. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem. In 2022 alone, one in five flights were delayed, totaling more than 800,000 delayed flights, and more than 100,000 were canceled, while the price of plane tickets soared by 38%. This past holiday weekend alone saw nearly 17,000 flights delayed and 1,400 canceled in total.

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

Congress has stepped in on a bipartisan basis to provide COVID-19 relief funding to the airline industry, with more than $50 billion in support during the pandemic. I believe that the industry has a responsibility to fulfill its part of the bargain by ensuring that its services are rendered efficiently without overloading its staff. Unfortunately, many airlines have used these funds to offer early retirement packages that have led to tens of thousands of airline workers, including many pilots, retiring and leaving the workforce. At a minimum, it goes against the spirit of this aid, which was provided to ensure that airlines would continue to provide their current service and keep workers on their payroll.

As travel restrictions eased, the industry should have been ready to resume a full schedule of operations had it not been for these growing numbers of delays and cancellations that are hurting American’s wallets. While airlines have so far been unwilling to use the aid they have received to fulfill their obligations to the American public, I strongly believe that the DOT should use its authority to prompt action and reverse the deterioration of service that we are seeing across the country.

The Department of Transportation has the power to protect consumers against unfair, deceptive and predatory practices. Airlines that sell tickets knowing they would have to cancel thousands are clearly meeting this bar. In 2009, the Department of Transportation instituted a policy that charges airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for each flight canceled due to understaffing or if planes are left on the tarmac for hours. This 2009-era policy penalized airlines for staying on the tarmac and was also extended in 2011 to fairly compensate passengers for being kicked off flights. Due to these travel complications, the Department should take all necessary steps to resolve the issue, including reviewing precedents for guidance.

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

As the industry faced an unprecedented situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided significant funding to ensure continuity of service. The Department must take action to address these shortcomings in the ability to travel for all Americans. The airline industry has failed to adequately prepare for the post-pandemic world we are now entering, and has in fact reduced staff and capacity to create many of these problems, despite the help provided to prevent this, and now we must act.

While I believe airline staff reductions are a significant cause of these delays and selling tickets to flights that airlines know they will not be able to operate is unacceptable, if there are Any other issues that you think could help alleviate the issues that my constituents are facing, let me know. I am happy to work with the Ministry to ensure that further monitoring is carried out and steps are taken to ensure that airlines address the issue without further burdening consumers.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

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