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Wisconsin joins Feds, dozens of states to hold airlines accountable for bad behavior

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//April 18, 2024//

Silhouette of a man waiting to board a flight

Wisconsin joins Feds, dozens of states to hold airlines accountable for bad behavior

By: Steve Schuster, [email protected]//April 18, 2024//

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Wisconsin officials are partnering with the Feds to hold airlines accountable for their bad behavior.

“For the time being our focus is on airlines,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul during a telephone interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal on Wednesday.

Kaul said that the U.S. Department of Transportation, Wisconsin Department of Justice and DATCP (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) have experience handling complaints against airlines.

“We have a lot of experience that will help fill gaps in protecting consumers, “Kaul said.

Kaul noted sometimes jurisdictional issues can be complicated.

When asked by the Wisconsin Law Journal if a Southwest Airlines passenger who traveled from Baltimore to Milwaukee and upon arrival in Wisconsin noticed their suitcase was damaged, who has jurisdiction, Wisconsin or Maryland?

“That’s a good question. When a complaint comes to us, ultimately we determine who needs to handle it. It is our hope we can help with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Transportation and other states with MOU (memorandum of understanding) agreements,” Kaul said.

Maryland’s attorney general is also participating in the MOU agreements.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein agreed with Kaul, as did Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“By working hand-in-hand, we will significantly enhance protections for passengers, creating a safer, more positive travel experience while ensuring bad actors are held accountable,” Nessel said.

“Too often, air travel is a headache. This partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation authorizes my office to better protect North Carolina air travelers when they run into issues,” said Stein. “I am grateful to the U.S. DOT for its commitment to protecting airline consumers,” Stein added.

Raoul said, “I am proud to participate in this bipartisan effort to protect the rights of airline passengers in Illinois and across the country.”

According to Kaul, the Wisconsin Department of Justice and DATCP can also assist customers with issues that occur with hotel stays in Wisconsin or Airbnb’s.

As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, a Milwaukee attorney said she was discriminated against by Airbnb as the FBI made several arrests of Airbnb hosts in a national scam.

“If there is a consumer travel issue happening in state of Wisconsin, consumers can contact DATCP,” Kaul said.

“If it’s a hotel or Airbnb and it happened in Wisconsin, there could be a state action,” Kaul noted.

According to Kaul, by Wisconsin and other states creating MOUs, “we are working together, so we can more effectively protect consumers.”

Anyone who has an issue with an airline is encouraged to file complaint with DATCP, by clicking here. Issues include delayed or canceled flights without being properly compensated and lost, delayed or damaged luggage. For additional information on which issues travels are eligible for compensation, click here.

“From a consumer perspective we want to encourage folks to report issues,” Kaul said.

Kaul noted, Wisconsin officials have seen an increase in complaints filed against the airline industry for a variety of issues ranging from flight disruptions to lost and damaged baggage.

“When people are not being treated fairly, we want to have an option to assist at state level,” Kaul said, noting “we often work in coordination with other states with a variety matters, including consumer protections issues.”

Kaul announced a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation on Tuesday.

Wisconsin and the federal government will review and resolve consumer complaints against airlines and ticket agents.

Under the terms of the agreement, Wisconsin’s attorney general and the U.S. DOT will work in collaboration to review consumer complaints and identify violations of federal aviation consumer protection requirements.

According to Kaul, consumer complaints about flight disruptions, lack of refunds, and lost/delayed/damaged baggage “continue to be at the core passenger concerns.”

Collaboratively, the Feds partnership with Wisconsin will provide additional protection to millions of U.S. airline passengers.

“Airlines and ticket agents conducting business in Wisconsin must do so honestly and treat consumers fairly,” said Kaul.

“This partnership will help ensure that airline passengers are effectively protected against deceptive practices,” Kaul added.

Other Wisconsin officials agreed.

“This partnership will further protect Wisconsin consumers,” said Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski in a written statement. “Travelers can be assured that this much-needed collaboration between state and federal agencies is here to help if needed.”

The new process for addressing consumer complaints against air travel companies is outlined in a memorandum of understanding between the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, DATCP and the U.S. DOT.

The agreement reinforces state and federal commitments to protect the rights of the travelers.

“This is long overdue,” said Christopher Elliott, who is a syndicated columnist and serves as chief advocacy officer with Elliott Advocacy, which advocates for consumers who have been wronged by airlines, rental car companies, hotels and other private sector businesses.

According to Elliott, there has been a significant uptick in overall cases his group as received.

“We’re up 80% from a year ago,” Elliott said.

Kaul said, “one of the important things we do at WisDOJ and DATCP is protect Wisconsinites pocketbooks. Something we are committed to doing where we can. If there are false and deceptive practices, companies will be held accountable.”

Wisconsin is one of 25 states or territories that either signed an MOU with the U.S. DOT or expressed an interest in executing such an agreement, according to Kaul.

“This new approach is just one way we are going broaden the scope where we can step in and assist consumers,” Kaul said.

Federal officials agreed.

“We take our mission to protect consumers seriously, and today’s launch of the Airline Passenger Protection Partnership is an important milestone in that effort,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a written statement.

“By partnering with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general, the U.S. Department of Transportation has expanded our ability to hold airlines and ticket agents accountable and protect passengers from unfair or deceptive practices,” Buttigieg said.

Pursuant to Federal law, protecting airline consumers is central to the U.S. DOT’s mission.

According to the terms of the new agreement, the attorney general’s office will be authorized to investigate consumer complaints against air carriers, ticket agents and other air travel companies supervised by the U.S. DOT.

The Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office and DATCP will work in collaboration with consumers and companies to resolve complaints and, if necessary, will refer complaints to the U.S. DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP).

According to officials, the OACP will prioritize their review, include attorney general’s office staff on letters of inquiry to those companies based on those referrals and consult with the attorney general’s office before determining next steps.

The U.S. DOT will also provide technical assistance and training to staff in the attorney general’s office and will meet at least once a year with the attorney general’s office to assess ongoing efforts and to update Wisconsin on any actions taken in response to state-referred complaints.

The agreement is in force for two years. Wisconsin and the U.S. DOT may agree to extend the agreement at two-year intervals after the agreement ends, according to Kaul.

In 2022, Kaul urged the federal government to strengthen protections for airline passengers and asked Congress to authorize state attorneys general enforcement of federal consumer protection laws governing the airline industry.

Other states that have signed the agreement with the U.S. DOT include the attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New York, New Hampshire, North Carolina, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Click here to read the NC MOU.


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