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Consumer Reports Petitions DOT to Create Airline Health and Safety Standards

Organization says COVID-19 protocols are needed to reassure Americans who are wary about travel in a global pandemic

September 24, 2020

Consumer Reports  says that it has delivered a petition to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao with more than 62,000 signatures, asking her to create mandatory health and safety standards for airlines and airports to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“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,” McGee says. “Mandatory standards will ultimately help the airlines recover from the current crisis by giving Americans more confidence that they will be safe when flying.”

In a letter accompanying the petition, the organization noted that Americans encounter a varying array of conflicting health and safety policies at hundreds of US airports and every airline.

Travelers don’t know when they make a reservation, what the airline’s policies on healthy travel will be on the date when their flight takes off, the letter states.

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

Over the past several months Business Traveler has reported that Delta will be blocking middle seats until January. Southwestt just committed to keeping middle seats open until after Thanksgiving.

American Airlines and United are currently not keeping middle seats open but informing passengers when flights are filled and allowing cancellations. All major US airlines are currently requiring masks both in airports and in flight in order to fly.

In the letter, Consumer Reports 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 9/11 terrorist attacks, the organization says.

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. The letter notes that a record 55,000 Americans filed complaints with the DOT in the first four months of the crisis after being denied refunds for canceled flights.

Consumer Reports