Durbin Presses Airlines on How they Plan to Address Flight Delays and Increased Fees that are Disrupting Consumers' Ability to Fly

In letters to United Airlines, American Airlines, and Airlines for America, Durbin requests answers on how these airlines plan to improve service and decrease unnecessary costs for Americans

SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today sent letters to the leadership of United Airlines, American Airlines, and Airlines for America (A4A) to urge the companies to address customer frustration around flight delays and excessive fees for checked baggage, Wi-Fi service, seat assignments, and more.  Citing startling statistics around the skyrocketing number of travel disruptions and outrageous fees, Durbin pressed the companies for answers on how airlines, which are making record profits, will better look out for consumers.

“I am writing to express my concern regarding ongoing challenges that airline passengers face, and to inquire what United Airlines / American Airlines / Airlines for America is doing to address these complaints from the American people,”Durbin wrote in the letters.

“According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) of full-year 2022 data, air carriers reported higher rates of mishandled baggage and higher numbers of passengers who were involuntarily denied boarding, due to oversold flights or bumps, compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019…  In addition, despite U.S. airline passenger traffic increasing by only about 30 percent from 2021 to 2022—from 658 million passengers to 853 million passengers—the aforementioned report notes that tarmac delays greater than three hours increased by 142 percent in the same time period,” Durbin wrote. 

Durbin continued his letters by noting the new wave of excessive fees tacked onto airline tickets, unnecessarily increasing costs for consumers.

“In 2017, airlines generated roughly $57 billion in add-on fees from passengers.  These fees often leave consumers to select a ticket price they deem affordable, only to get hit with back-end fees as they navigate the increasingly confusing process of booking a flight, resulting in higher costs than ever before.  And these increases do not appear to be slowing down; according to the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, the price of airline tickets increased by 25 percent from 2022 to 2023—the largest jump since it began tracking such prices,” Durbin wrote. 

Durbin concluded his letters by asking each entity a set of individualized questions, ranging on topics from compensation for flight delays, baggage mishandling, and cutting unnecessary fees.

Durbin asked United Airlines, “The latest DOT Air Travel Consumer Report shows that only 65 percent of United Airlines flights were on time in June 2023.  Additionally, it notes that United cancelled 5.3 percent of flights, 11 percent of which were due to circumstances within the airline’s control—among the highest rates of the 15 reporting carriers.  What is United doing to ensure its passengers are refunded or compensated for delayed and cancelled flights? 

a.     Does this include funding for meals or lodging in cases of excessive delays?”

Durbin requested information on how American Airlines can ensure that it is not profiting at the expense of fair pricing for consumers, “As of July, American Airlines reported quarterly profit of more than $1.3 billion.  What is American doing to ensure consumers are not saddled with excessive or unnecessary fees throughout their booking and travel experience? 

a.     How is American ensuring that this profit is not earned at the expense of a fair, pleasant, and affordable travel experience for consumers?”

Durbin urged A4A to remedy high rates of mishandled luggage, particularly wheelchairs and scooters, “Despite 2022 air travel levels remaining lower than pre-pandemic levels, the full-year 2022 ATCR showed that the rate of mishandled baggage increased from 2019, and the rate of mishandled wheelchairs and scooters was unimproved from 2019.  What is the reason for this increase in mishandling baggage and stagnancy in mishandling wheelchairs and scooters?

a.     What efforts does A4A have in place to improve this metric across the industry?”

A copy of the letter to United Airlines is available here.

A copy of the letter to American Airlines is available here.

A copy of the letter to Airlines for America is available here