Consumer News Release
For immediate release -- Monday, September 18, 2000.
Miller Asks Congress for Power to Enforce Consumer Protection Laws Against Airlines
DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller is asking the U.S. Congress for authority to take action if airlines violate state consumer protection laws.
"Unfortunately, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 preempts states from taking action even if airlines engage in deceptive and unfair practices," Miller said. "The Supreme Court has ruled we can't enforce state consumer protection laws when it comes to the airlines. We need to change that."
Miller asked Iowa's seven Members of Congress to back the change, and he joined with 44 attorneys general from other states and territories to ask Congressional leaders to take up the matter. [See Miller's letter to Iowa delegation, below.]
The attorneys general noted that the number of flights delayed or canceled recently is at an all-time high - and that there are allegations that some airlines may have provided false or mislead-ing information to travelers and failed to accommodate stranded customers as regulations require.
"The problems with airlines' failure to deliver advertised services appear to be compounded by their failure to provide customers with accurate and reliable information which would allow customers to make informed choices about their travel options," the 45 attorneys general wrote to the House and Senate leaders. "Regardless of the reasons for the airlines' failure to deliver their advertised services, this industry should be held to a standard of truthful advertising and honest business dealings with its customers."
Miller said the proposed amendment would allow states to investigate and take legal action if airlines engage in misleading air fare price advertising, fail to disclose material limitations on advertised offers, or engage in unfair practices.
"This is another step we can take to foster fair competition and benefit Iowa businesses and consumers," Miller said.
Friday, September 15, 2000
The Honorable Tom Harkin
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Deceptive Practices by Air Carriers, and State Consumer Protection Enforcement
Dear Sen. Harkin:
I am writing to the Iowa delegation, asking you to support action by the Congress to restore authority for State Attorneys General to pursue consumer protection actions in connection with airline advertising, rates, and services. This is another step that can help to enhance fair competition and benefit Iowa businesses and consumers. Here is the situation:
Under a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Morales v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 504 U.S. 374 (1992), State Attorneys General are blocked from enforcing their state consumer protection laws against airlines. The Court held that states are preempted under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 from taking action against airlines, even if the airlines have engaged in deceptive and unfair practices. The decision says states are preempted from taking action relating to advertisement of rates, services, and other matters. We are asking Congress to eliminate the preemption.
The Iowa Attorney General's Office has long been active in addressing deceptive and misleading retail advertising and sales practices. With this history, it is ironic that we are constrained from considering action in an area where Iowa businesses and consumers already are in a worse position than travelers in most other states because of high fares. For Iowa travelers, this adds insult to injury.
I know you have actively supported efforts to increase competition in air travel to and from Iowa. Such competition will benefit Iowa business and leisure travelers by lowering fares and improving service. But increased competition only works if it is conducted fairly and in ways that do not mislead travelers.
Please find attached a copy of a letter I and 43 other state and territorial attorneys general recently sent to Congressional leaders, urging that Congress consider specific legislative action to amend the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. We ask Congress to end preemption and authorize state enforcement of available consumer protection laws with respect to the advertising and sales of air travel service. Our letter noted the all-time high number of flights that have been delayed or canceled, and allegations that some airlines may be providing false or misleading information and failing to provide accurate and reliable information which would allow customers to make informed choices about their travel options.
State consumer protection laws can address situations like this, but action based on them now is preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Our consumer protection laws can enable states to stop deceptive practices and obtain refunds for travelers. For example, we might be able to take action requiring airlines to disclose information they have about cancellations, or disclose key information in ads such as that overnight stays are required, that round-trip purchase is required, or that the airline imposes fees or charges in addition to the stated air fare. The amendment would allow states to investigate and take legal action if airlines engage in misleading air fare price advertising, fail to disclose material limitations on advertised offers, or engage in unfair practices.
The amendment would simply state that the Airline Deregulation Act does not prevent State Attorneys General "from enforcing any state laws prohibiting unfair or deceptive business practices or unfair methods of competition with respect to air transportation or the advertisement and sale of air transportation services."
I hope you will support this measure in any way you can.
Thank you for your past efforts to help Iowans get better deals on air travel, and thank you for considering this request to bolster healthy and fair competition for Iowa air travelers.
With best regards,
Attorney General of Iowa