The attorneys general of 25 states Friday accused the Transportation Department of failing to protect consumers from misleading airline advertising and trying to pre-empt state consumer protection laws.
With Texas and New York acting as lead counsel, the states filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington alleging the department published an order allowing misleading ads without public notice or inviting public comment."It is unfortunate that we had to take this legal action against the federal government, but it is even more unfortunate that DOT is attempting to dismantle consumer protection efforts by the states," said Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox.
The attorney general accused the department of taking action "in an under-handed, sneaky way."
The lawsuit stems from disagreement between the states and transportation officials over airline advertising guidelines adopted by the National Association of Attorneys General in December.
Mattox said the guidelines were approved after meetings with airline officials and were prompted by numerous complaints from consumers about misleading ads on low fares and frequent flier programs.
The guidelines call for airlines to include the full-fare prices in their advertising, including surcharges and any special fees, and not to mislead consumers by advertising special one-way fares when consumers must buy round-trip tickets to obtain the special fares.
Mattox said many airlines have been voluntarily following the guidelines.
But in a March 2 letter from Transportation Department General Counsel Wayne Vance, the agency took issue with the states' guidelines and threatened to sue. Vance wrote he did not believe the states had the right to regulate air fare advertising.
Mattox said he responded in a March 9 letter to Vance that the states would continue to enforce the advertising guidelines through their consumer protection laws.
The attorney generals met with transportation officials in Washington on March 14 without reaching an agreement on the issue.
But Mattox said - unbeknownst to the attorneys general - the department had already decided to permit the airlines to advertise prices without including surcharges and fees, such as foreign departure taxes, customs fees, immigration fees, security fees, agricultural inspection fees and tourist and fuel charges.
He said the department released its order only after the attorneys general left Washington.
Joining Texas and New York in the legal action are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Vermont.