Skift Take

The review into passenger data protections is the first of many the Department of Transportation plans to periodically conduct.

The Department of Transportation is reviewing how the 10 largest U.S. airlines handle, use and collect passengers’ personal information. 

The review will include a look into airlines’ policies and procedures, along with a probe into whether airlines have “unfairly or deceptively” monetized passenger data with third parties. In particular, the DOT will examine American, Delta, United, Southwest, Alaska, JetBlue, Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant and Hawaiian. 

“Airline passengers should have confidence that their personal information is not being shared improperly with third parties or mishandled by employees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The DOT said this review would be the first of periodic ones into airlines’ privacy practices and is part of a broader push by the Biden Administration to advocate for consumer privacy. The DOT is also conducting these reviews with Senator Ron Wyden, who has brought up several consumer protection bills before the Senate. 

“Because consumers will often never know that their personal data was misused or sold to shady data brokers, effective privacy regulation cannot depend on consumer complaints to identify corporate abuses,” Wyden said. “I will continue to work with DOT to ensure that it is holding the airlines responsible for harmful or negligent privacy practices.”

If there is any evidence of wrongdoing, the DOT said it would open an investigation, issue a new rule, adopt new industry guidance or take enforcement action. 

Biden Administration Scrutinizes Airlines’ Consumer Practices

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents some of the biggest airlines in the country, said the industry was committed to protecting passengers’ personal data. 

“U.S. airlines take customers’ personal information security very seriously, which is why they have robust policies, programs and cybersecurity infrastructure to protect consumers’ privacy,” A4A said in a statement. “We look forward to demonstrating the successes of the industry to DOT.”

Airlines have poured billions of dollars into IT, according to the group. Since 2018, airlines have spent around $36 billion on IT, including $7.3 billion in 2023. 

The probe into airlines’ passenger privacy practices is the latest DOT initiative to reform the consumer protections in the industry. In December, the DOT said it would investigate airlines’ loyalty programs to determine whether they devalued frequent flier miles to make it harder to book award tickets. 

The DOT has also campaigned for family seating with no extra fees and passenger compensation in the event a flight is delayed or canceled. And the department is also expected to issue its final rulemaking on “junk fees” sometime in March, which would mandate airlines to disclose ancillary, change and cancellation fees at the time of ticket purchase. 


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Tags: alaska airlines, allegiant air, american, delta, Department of Transportation, frontier airlines, hawaiian airlines, jetblue, pete buttigieg, spirit airlines, united

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