Buttigieg Vows to Hold Southwest Airlines Accountable Over Flight Cancellations

Over the weekend, the midwest and much of the United States saw an unprecedented winter storm that caused power outages and flight cancellations. People traveling via Southwest Airlines suffered the most, as 5,400 flights were cancelled in less than 48 hours.

Thousands were left stranded during their holiday travels, and even though their flights were cancelled, somehow their luggage was still sent to their destination. Another scenario that has people scratching their heads.

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on CNN’s “Situation Room” and vowed that the government will hold Southwest Airlines accountable over their system meltdown.

Buttigieg said, “I conveyed to the CEO our expectation that they are going to go above and beyond to take care of passengers and to address this. They indicated a number of issues that they’re having with systems, legacy systems for managing their schedule and where their crews are, but the bottom line is the rest of the aviation system has been on the road to recovery since the worst days of the storm going into Friday of last week.”

He continued, “As of today, as I’m looking at the different airlines, most of them are in the low single digits in terms of cancellation rates, averaging about five percent for all of the other airlines. For Southwest right now, we appear to be north of 70 percent. So their system really has completely melted down. And I made clear that our department will be holding them accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them through this situation and to make sure that this can’t happen again.”

“Well, over the course of the last year, as you know, we’ve seen a number of issues with the different airlines, and in the summer, in particular, we pressed them to improve their standard of customer service. They provided commitments in writing, including Southwest,” Buttigieg said. “They would go above the previous level of what you do to take care of customers with things like covering the cost if you get stuck and you need a hotel or a meal in addition to rebooking you to get your on your way. Now that we have those commitments that were made to us over the summer, we’re going to be using that as a tool to hold them accountable, and I made that clear to Southwest leadership. The CEO pledged to me they will not only meet but exceed the customer service standards and commitments they made to us in the past and that we’re in a position to enforce.”

He added, “We have enforcement tools we have been using, especially this year. We saw, for example, a number of airlines that had cancellations. They weren’t taking good care of their passengers, so through enforcement actions, we’ve been able to get hundreds of thousands of passengers their money back to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re also in a position to use enforcement powers and fines to hold airlines to the things that they have now committed to us, pledged to us in writing they’ll do.”

My question is, how can the government forced a private company to provide “better customer service” to people? Does that not create a slippery slope if the government can come in and start dictating the policies of private companies?



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