Senate plans hearings on Southwest holiday meltdown

Southwest Airlines
AP Photo/Matt York
A Southwest Airlines jet arrives at Sky Harbor International Airport, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Phoenix. Travelers who counted on Southwest Airlines to get them home suffered another wave of canceled flights Wednesday, and pressure grew on the federal government to help customers get reimbursed for unexpected expenses they incurred because of the airline’s meltdown.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee announced plans on Wednesday to hold public hearings in the aftermath of Southwest Airlines canceling a wave of flights around the country during the holiday season. 

In a news release, panel Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said her committee plans to hold hearings on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) reauthorization examining ways to strengthen consumer protections and airline operations. 

In a statement last month, Cantwell shared her concerns about the mess of Southwest cancellations and Congress’s plans to look into the matter, saying many major airlines fail “to adequately communicate with consumers during flight cancellations” and that consumers deserve better protection throughout this ordeal. 

“Southwest’s customers are rightfully dissatisfied and deserve better,” she said in her statement. “These consumers need refunds and reimbursements for their expenses. I have spoken with CEO Bob Jordan and [Transportation] Secretary Buttigieg about these concerns. The Committee will be holding hearings for FAA reauthorization to examine how to strengthen consumer protections and airline operations.”

The White House said on Tuesday it will hold Southwest Airlines accountable to reimburse its consumers who were affected by the mass cancellations. 

Thousands of Americans were left stranded after Southwest, along with other major airlines, canceled a number of flights in the last two weeks of December after a massive winter storm swept through much of the country. 

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 60 percent of its flights within a three-day period, citing the winter storm. 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also said that the Department of Transportation will monitor to see if Southwest fully refunds its customers for the flight cancellations, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pressed Southwest CEO Robert Jordan in a letter for an update on the airline’s “efforts to do right by the customers it has wronged.” 

“The Transportation Department is watching,” Jean-Pierre said. “They’re monitoring this very, very closely to ensure that this all happens. And we’ll see fines for Southwest if it doesn’t cover a cost.”

Tags Department of Transportation Flight cancellation and delay Karine Jean-Pierre Maria Cantwell Maria Cantwell Pete Buttigieg Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee southwest airlines The Biden Administration

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