Obama Administration Cracks Down on Airlines
Fines imposed on airlines from the Department of Transportation -- the agency that oversees pricing, advertising, delays and involuntary bumping -- have spiked from $1.2 million during the Bush administration in 2008 to $2.6 million after Obama appointed Ray LaHood as Transportation Secretary in 2009.
Obama appointed Randy Babbitt to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency that regulates safety in the skies. Under Babbitt's guidance, the FAA levied $14.7 million in fines during 2009, compared to $7.6 million in 2008 and $6.1 million the year before.
"Clearly we have an administration now which believes in more government intervention on behalf of consumers and other constituencies," said Brian F. Havel, a law professor and director of the International Aviation Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago to ABC News. "I think the philosophy of the administration clearly is to be more interventionist."
One of the biggest signs of change came when the DOT recently established tarmac delay regulations. Under the new rule, airlines cannot keep passengers stuck on parked planes for more than three hours. LaHood ordered the agency regulations in August 2009, when 51 passengers onboard a Continental Express flight were stranded in Rochester, Minnesota overnight with little food and a broken toilet.
Airlines found in violation of the new tarmac regulations are subject to fines of up to $27,500 per passenger. "That's a steep fine," reported ABC News, who calculated a delayed jet with 186 passengers would cost an airline a single fine of $5.1 million. Although passengers rights groups have been lobbying for a similar rule for years, airlines have said the risk of steep penalties under the regulation will ultimately lead to the cancellation of more flights.
"The traveling public has the right to expect that their flight will be safe and that the airline will treat them fairly," LaHood said through a spokesman to ABC News. "During my watch, the U.S. Department of Transportation has vigorously enforced our aviation regulations governing both safety and consumer protection, and we will continue to do so."