US consumers urge DOT to mandate airline COVID-19 safety standards



Consumer Reports delivered more than 62,000 petition signatures to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao today calling on her to establish mandatory health and safety standards for airlines and airports to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While the DOT issued COVID-19 health and safety recommendations in July, airlines and airports are not required to follow them and practices can vary widely across the industry.

“Americans are already wary about traveling during a global pandemic and deserve to know that strict COVID-19 safety precautions will be followed if they choose to fly,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “We need mandatory, enforceable health and safety rules so that every airline, airport and passenger can be held accountable to help stop the spread of this potentially deadly virus. Mandatory standards will ultimately help the airlines recover from the current crisis by giving Americans more confidence that they will be safe when flying.”

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In a letter accompanying the petition signatures, Consumer Reports noted that Americans encounter a confusing patchwork of conflicting health and safety policies at hundreds of U.S. airports and every airline. Travelers cannot be sure, when they make a reservation, what the airline’s policies on healthy travel will be on the date when their flight takes off.

While some airlines are currently leaving middle seats open on flights, other carriers are booking passengers on every seat on their planes. CR has heard from travelers concerned about overcrowded flights and that mask requirements are not being enforced consistently.

CR urged Secretary Chao to work with other key administration officials to establish requirements for airlines, airports, and travelers to protect against the transmission of COVID-19 during air travel. Secretary Chao has the authority to make COVID-19 safety protocols mandatory using the same emergency authority the DOT used to require airlines to adopt stronger security measures following the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Consumer Reports also reiterated its call for Secretary Chao to ensure airlines treat passengers fairly by providing cash refunds for flights disrupted by the pandemic. CR’s letter notes that a record 55,000 Americans filed complaints with the DOT in the first four months of the crisis after being unfairly denied refunds for canceled flights.