Southwest COO to testify before Senate panel following mass cancellations

Flight information is seen at BWI International Airport in Baltimore, Md., on Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Greg Nash
Flight information is seen at BWI International Airport in Baltimore, Md., on Tuesday, August 30, 2022

The chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines is scheduled to testify next week before the Senate Commerce, Transportation and Space Committee after the airline struggled with technical problems that caused it to delay and cancel thousands of flights in December. 

Southwest COO Andrew Watterson will appear on Thursday for the hearing titled “Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protections,” which is intended to analyze the causes and effects of recent “air travel disruptions” and impacts on the public, according to a description of the meeting. 

The description notes Southwest’s “operational meltdown” that “stranded” millions of people during the holidays. 

The committee, chaired by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), will receive recommendations from its witnesses and decide what actions should be taken to improve protections for airline passengers and build more resilient airline operations. 

The other witnesses at the hearing will be Casey Murray, the president of the Southwest Airlines Pilot Association; Paul Hudson, the president of the nonprofit airline passenger advocacy group Flyers’ Rights; Sharon Pinkerton, the senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policies for the trade association Airlines for America; and Clifford Winston, a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution. 

Southwest faced heavy scrutiny after winter storms hit its hubs in Denver and Chicago and caused many of the flights from those locations to be canceled. The airline’s system struggled to keep up with the cancellations and reroute pilots and flight attendants to different flights, causing thousands to also be canceled. 

Workers for the airline have said that they have complained for a long time that the online system was outdated and needed to be modernized. Some have also said the airline overbooked its schedule during the holiday weekend and did not have enough staff members to rebook flights that were canceled because of the weather. 

Cantwell said amid the chaos that her committee would investigate what happened.

Tags Maria Cantwell Maria Cantwell Sharon Pinkerton Southwest Airlines

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