This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
Welcome to Reed Smith's viewpoints — timely commentary from our lawyers on topics relevant to your business and wider industry. Browse to see the latest news and subscribe to receive updates on topics that matter to you, directly to your mailbox.
| 1 minute read

DOT partnership with state attorneys on consumer protection

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is extending its consumer protection measures, this time with the help of state governments.  On Tuesday, April 16, DOT announced agreements with 18 state attorneys general (AGs) through the execution of MOUs.  The MOUs allow AGs to support DOT though information sharing and collaboration, although existing law establishes responsibility for aviation consumer protection matters squarely within DOT in its Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP). According to DOT, the new measures will help “hold airlines and ticket agents accountable and protect passengers from unfair or deceptive trade practices.”

Currently, state AGs may receive consumer complaints relating to airline practices, which may result in an airline receiving an inquiry from a state AG.  However, the law does not require airlines to respond to such inquiries.  The MOUs seek to change this practice by incentivizing (but not requiring) airlines to respond to state AG questions. 

DOT provided additional details on state AG and DOT responsibilities through the publication of its agreement with the State Attorney General of Colorado.  In this MOU, the Colorado AG may:

  • Investigate consumer complaints about airlines and ticket agents;
  • Make a preliminary determination of whether the complaint facts indicate a potential violation of federal law (relating to aviation consumer protection);
  • Contact and request a response from airlines and ticket agents;
  • Refer a matter to DOT for action when an airline or ticket agent is not responsive to the AG;
  • Provide DOT with the underlying consumer complaints.

The Colorado MOU also assigns responsibilities to the DOT, which include:

  • Prioritizing the review and investigation of alleged violations referred by state AGs;
  • Prioritize subsequent enforcement when there is evidence of an unfair or deceptive practice;
  • Consult with the state AG before determining next steps if DOT determines that an entity has violated an aviation consumer protection law;
  • Provide to the state AG access to DOT’s consumer complaint system when DOT finds that enforcement may be necessary, based on information provided by the state AG.

Importantly, DOT explicitly provides that the terms of the MOU will not affect its ability to use discretion when deciding whether an investigation or enforcement action should be pursued. 

As we have discussed, the current Administration has prioritized the initiation and enforcement of aviation consumer protection laws.  Under current DOT leadership, over $164 million in penalties have been issued against airlines for consumer protection violations. By contrast, between 1996 and 2020, DOT issued less than $71 million collectively in penalties against airlines for such violations. 


consumer protection, aviation, transportation