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Tong calls for traveler protection from flight delays, cancellations ahead of holiday weekend

Attorney General William Tong is calling on the federal government to give power to states to hold airlines accountable if travelers are treated unfairly.

WINDSOR LOCKS, Conn. — Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is leading the charge, calling on the federal Department of Transportation to give people like himself power and authority to hold airlines accountable for delays and cancellations.

In Monday's announcement, Tong, alongside Republican and Democratic Attorney Generals across the country, said the federal government needs to take stronger action to protect consumers.

"So many people these days, they buy a ticket for a flight. They expect that the airline's going to honor what’s on that ticket and the flight gets canceled, it gets delayed, and then canceled. They take a flight with a connection to someplace in the middle of the country, the connection gets canceled," Tong said. "We’re going into the busiest travel season of the year really without a lot of protection."

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The State Attorneys General are calling for:

  • DOT should require airlines to advertise and sell only flights that they have adequate personnel to support.
  • DOT should make clear that it will impose significant fines for cancellations and extended delays that are not weather-related or otherwise unavoidable.
  • DOT should require airlines to provide partial refunds to passengers for any cancellation that results in a rescheduled flight which the passenger accepts but that is later, longer, or otherwise less valuable than the originally purchased flight.
  • DOT should prohibit airlines from canceling flights while upselling consumers more expensive alternative flights to the same destinations. For example, an airline could cancel a consumer’s $200 flight from City A to City B, then explain to the consumer that he or she could either accept a full refund, as required by FAA rules, or purchase an alternative ticket for $300. Such a circumstance forces consumers to either cancel their travel plans or pay an upcharge–while the airline would receive a windfall profit from any such sale as the result of its cancellation. DOT should prohibit airlines from disadvantaging consumers and benefiting from its flight cancellations in such a way.
  • DOT should require that credits and vouchers for future travel that are provided by airlines in the event of cancellation can be used easily without inappropriate limitations.
  • DOT should require airlines to provide additional compensation to consumers who, as the result of delays or cancellations, are forced to assume additional costs because they must pay for meals, hotel stays, flights on other airlines, rental car reservations, or gas to eventually make it to their destinations.

"We depend on the nation's airlines to keep us moving and we need them to be there for us," Tong said. "Sometimes we’ve been able to get refunds for people, but very often we hear from the airlines, 'You don’t have authority over us.'"

Credit: FOX61
Travelers at Bradley International Airport coming from Baltimore Monday wait for their luggage after a flight delay.

A number of flights coming in and out of Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks Monday were delayed. One flight from Baltimore arrived in Connecticut 40 minutes after it was scheduled to. Travelers on the flight told FOX61 they were unsure why.

Tong said a proposed rule by the Department of Transportation would declare it an unfair business practice to not provide appropriate refunds to those who had flights canceled or significantly changed. Part of it would require airlines to provide credits or vouchers that do not expire to those unable to travel due to 'serious communicable disease.' Tong said he has received hundreds of complaints from people denied refunds who couldn't travel because of illness or health concerns. However, the attorney general says the D.O.T. proposal does not go far enough to protect consumers.

"If you get stuck or you miss a flight and it’s the airline's fault... that we have a way to hold them accountable and make them give you a refund, get you another flight and make them honor the bargain that they strike with you when they sell you a ticket," he said.

Delays and cancellations due to weather are difficult to predict months in advance. Tong says the airlines need to have better contingency plans in place for weather and inform travelers what options and rights they have if the weather is the reason for their disruption.

Credit: FOX61
People at Bradley International Airport Monday heading to their departure gates.

The attorney general says the biggest reason flights have delays or cancellations is staffing. Delta Air Lines told FOX61 in a statement last month they have focused on hiring and training over the past several months, increased boarding time, added buffer time in crew schedules, and adjusted the airline’s schedules to “ensure a reliable holiday travel experience.” Southwest also increased staffing levels by nearly 16,000.

Tony Black is a multi-media journalist at FOX61 News. He can be reached at tblack@fox61.com. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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