U.S. PIRG Latest Group to Attack DOT Over Consumer Concerns

U.S. PIRG Latest Group to Attack DOT Over Consumer Concerns

Joe Cortez

Another major consumer watchdog group is calling out the U.S. Department of Transportation over a perceived lack of action after a meeting of the Aviation Consumer Protection Action Committee. In a group letter, the committee members are asking the agency to take action on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Boeing 737 MAX recertification.

A group of consumer organizations are crying foul against the U.S. Department of Transportation over several policies, including their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX. In a joint letter sent by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group to Transportation secretary Elaine Chao, the signatories expressed a frustration stemming from the last meeting of the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.

Group Claims DOT Did Not Discuss COVID-19 or Boeing 737 MAX

According to the letter, the Sept. 24, 2020 meeting of the group did not have the two most pressing topics in aviation on the docket. Instead, the secretary’s staff put only three items on the agenda: in-flight sexual assaults, ancillary fee transparency and involuntary rescheduling.

“In November 2018, consumer organizations wrote to [Secretary Chao] expressing concerns that the interests of consumers would not be well-represented given the pro-industry makeup of the ACPAC’s membership,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, those fears appear to have been well-founded. Despite mounting concerns about consumer treatment by airlines – particularly during this pandemic – the Committee is not focusing on timely, essential issues.”

The group denounced the agency’s deferral of mandatory face covering policies to airlines and transportation operators, claiming that the move does not ensure “safe travel for consumers who choose to fly, or must.” The lack of an organized COVID-19 response was only one frustration that the group raised in their letter.

“Among other issues we have raised but on which your Department has been slow or silent are: oversight of aircraft design and testing, particularly in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX disasters; oversight of outsourcing of aircraft maintenance and repair to foreign countries; standards for emergency evacuation testing to ensure realistic simulations under current-day cramped seating and cluttered cabins; and fair access by competing airlines to slot-constrained airports,” the letter reads.

Although the group has only met on three occasions since the formation of the committee, the letter accuses the secretary of “abandoning consumer protection rulemakings that had been years in development.” Additionally, the committee says the new process places “…new procedural and substantive hurdles to new rulemakings against unfair and deceptive practices.”

This concern is met by the National Association of Attorneys General, which complained to Congress days before about their inability to pursue action against airlines. As part of a proposed stimulus package, the attorneys urged Congress to give them more power to pursue complaints against airlines, and the ability to levy penalties.

“Your Department’s vigilant oversight of passenger air travel and the commercial aviation industry is all the more important,” the U.S. PIRG letter closes. “That is why it is so distressing to see it so lacking now.”

Travelers United Signs on Letter, Despite Supporting 737 MAX Recertification

The letter, which expressed frustration over the Boeing 737 MAX recertification process, was signed by several organizations, including Consumer Reports, the Business Travel Coalition, the Consumer Federation of America, FlyersRights.org, and Travelers United. However, a FlyerTalk investigation revealed Travelers United was the only organization in complete support of the Boeing 737 MAX airworthiness directive, which conflicts with the statement of the letter.

“The subsequent FAA and Boeing actions have resulted in a good and safe aircraft,” Travelers United co-founder and president Charlie Leocha wrote on their website in September 2020. “They now certify the Boeing 737 MAX can soar again.”

Feature image courtesy: kmf164/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0