(The Hill) – Pennsylvania U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman (D) called on the Biden administration to fine airlines for flights they cancel, amid thousands of flight cancellations already this week as Americans head into the Fourth of July travel weekend.
“The Department of Transportation needs to take action. They should start fining airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for every flight they cancel that they knew they didn’t have the staff to fly — just as the Obama administration did in 2009 whenever airlines left a plane on the tarmac for over 3 hours,” Fetterman said in a statement on Wednesday.
He called the hundreds of flight cancellations a day “ridiculous.” So far this week, 2,010 flights have been canceled.
The influx of cancellations have been attributed to pilot and staffing shortages as airlines and airlines have tried to accuse the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of not having adequate staffing. Fetterman, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, referenced former President Obama fining airlines after imposing rules that limit how long a place can sit on the tarmac.
“DOT must also look into ways to ensure that airlines are compensating consumers for sunk costs. It’s the very least they can do for violating the trust of their customers,” Fetterman said. “Government has a responsibility to hold these airlines accountable. Tax payers saved them, and now it’s their turn to hold up their end of the deal.”
Fetterman pointed to the $54 billion in COVID-19 pandemic relief funds airlines received, echoing the argument used by the FAA, which argued the handouts should have allowed the airlines to keep themselves fully staffed as passengers returned.
“But despite requirements to retain their workforce under the terms of the bailout, the airlines found loopholes to push thousands of pilots and crew out of their jobs,” he said.
Airlines have defended their decision to furlough workers and offer early retirements to pilots at the height of the pandemic. They said say they were still forced to reduce staff, particularly when federal aid temporarily lapsed in late 2020.
“So now as airlines are getting busier, they are overpromising, underdelivering, and leaving consumers in the dust. According to some airline workers, airlines are even booking passengers on flights that they know they will not have the staff to operate,” Fetterman said.
AAA predicts 3.55 million people will travel by air over the Independence Day holiday, up from 3.5 million people in 2021.