The US Department of Transportation (DOT) recently issued a consent order assessing a $70,000 civil penalty against Volaris, the Mexican low-cost airline, for alleged violations of the DOT's regulations governing lengthy tarmac delays. The facts of the case and the DOT's rationale for assessing violations did not break new ground, but aspects of the DOT's order may provide insights into how it is approaching enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security recently issued a non-binding guidance document which recommends that airports and airlines implement specific measures to mitigate public health risks associated with COVID-19, prepare for increased travel volume and ensure that aviation safety and security are not compromised.
As airlines seek to restore consumer confidence in air travel, they are urging the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to administer temperature screenings of all passengers at TSA airport security checkpoints. Some have questioned whether the TSA has statutory authority to do so. For its part, the TSA appears to have answered that question in the affirmative because it is reportedly preparing to administer temperature checks at more than a dozen US airports.
Passengers who no longer wish to travel due to COVID-19 concerns or who have had their flights cancelled are demanding refunds from airlines. Airlines, on the other hand, are grappling with a difficult truth: if they refund all tickets, including those purchased under the condition of being non-refundable or those cancelled by a passenger, this will result in negative cash balances that will lead to bankruptcy.
President Trump has announced that the US Department of Homeland Security will delay the 1 October 2020 deadline for compliance with the REAL ID Act 2005 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The postponement is welcome news for US airlines and the US travel industry, which had grown increasingly concerned (well before COVID-19) that a significant number of US nationals had not yet obtained a REAL ID.