US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made media rounds last night, pledging that the Department of Transportation would hold Southwest Airlines accountable for what he called a “complete meltdown.”
Pete Buttigieg: We’re In A Position To Hold Southwest Airlines Accountable
Buttigieg minced no words with Wolf Blitzer when asked about Southwest:
“From what I can tell, Southwest is unable to locate even where their own crews are, let alone their own passengers, let alone baggage…
“Their system really has completely melted down.”
Asked if such language was too strong on the News Hour, Buttigieg told Judy Woodruff:
“Ordinarily, I think that, sometimes, in the media, the word meltdown is used a little bit too often. Right now, I would say meltdown is the only word I can use to describe what is happening across Southwest Airlines’ operations.”
Buttigieg does not believe that weather is a valid excuse, telling Tom Llamas on NBC Nightly News:
“This has clearly crossed the line from what’s an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility.”
On PBS, Woodruff pushed back on Buttigieg’s “stump speech” pledging to hold Southwest accountable to suggest that new Biden-era DOT consumer protections cannot prevent the sort of meltdown that has impacted Southwest this week.
Buttigieg’s response encapsulates the totality of all his media appearances in just a few sentences:
“Ultimately, what we’re seeing is that no other airline had this issue. So, it does seem to be specific to this one airline. They’re going to have to, I think, as a company that has relationships with their passengers, answer for that. But they’re also going to be responsible to us for meeting their customer service commitments.
“And what we have found is that, both through transparency and through enforcement, we have been able to get a lot of results out of airlines. Just this year alone, we have gotten hundreds of millions of dollars back to hundreds of thousands of passengers.
“And because we put that pressure on over the summer, many airlines, including Southwest, made new commitments in writing to what they will do for passengers in situations like this. Now that we have that in hand, we’re in a position to hold them accountable to them. And that’s exactly what were going to be doing as we look ahead.”
But he did go even further on CNN, telling Blitzer not only would Southwest be held accountable for what has happened, but also be held accountable to a degree that such a meltdown cannot happen again:
“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.”
The US DOT also released its own statement concerning the Southwest meltdown:
USDOT is concerned by Southwest Airlines’ disproportionate and unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays, as well as the failure to properly support customers experiencing a cancellation or delay. As more information becomes available, the department will closely examine whether cancellations were controllable and whether Southwest is complying with its customer service plan, as well as all other pertinent DOT rules.
It is not clear what the DOT can do beyond ensuring that Southwest refunds canceled tickets and pays for incidental expenses incurred by consumers as a result of its cascade of delays and cancellations.
While DOT policy did not prevent the meltdown at Southwest Airlines this week, Buttigieg promised to hold Southwest accountable for making passengers whole and better understand exactly what caused the collapse. I am not sure DOT can do anything more at this time, but I remind you once again, folks, that the DOT has every right to poke its head in Southwest’s business when Southwest was the beneficiary of billions in taxpayer subsidies during the pandemic.
image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr