Senators call out Buttigieg at Southwest hearing

Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee called out Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a Thursday hearing on the Southwest Airlines meltdown.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, took aim at Buttigieg over last month’s system meltdown at the Federal Aviation Administration that briefly grounded all U.S. flights for the first time in two decades.

“Notably absent from today’s meeting is Secretary Buttigieg,” Cruz said.

“The DOT didn’t give any mea culpa to impacted travelers. The Biden DOT didn’t issue refunds, didn’t issue reimbursements, it just screwed up their flights and then proceeded to say, ‘We want to be in charge of how the airlines behave,’” he added. 

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the committee’s chairwoman, said that the Department of Transportation isn’t doing enough to crack down on poor airline service. Cantwell’s office clarified that she was referring to the need to empower the DOT’s consumer protection office with “more resources and manpower.”

“This sector needs a more effective policeman on the beat. They need someone over at the Department of Transportation who is going to get the job done,” Cantwell said in her opening remarks. 

Buttigieg has come under fire from some Democrats and consumer advocates who say that he hasn’t been tough enough on airlines that overbook flights, pointing out that the DOT hasn’t fined any of the major carriers for persistent delays and cancellations. 

Under Buttigieg, the department has rolled out stronger rules for airline refunds, but critics say they don’t go far enough.

A DOT spokesperson said that the department is probing whether Southwest scheduled too many flights over the holidays and will hold the airline accountable if it doesn’t provide prompt refunds to stranded travelers.

“DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected. The Department welcomes additional congressional support with resources and legislative authority to build on this important work,” the spokesperson said.

Republicans, meanwhile, have accused the Biden administration of going too far with government regulation, noting that the federal government has caused its own disruptions.

Senators on Thursday held their first hearing about Southwest Airlines since the carrier canceled nearly 17,000 flights over the Christmas holiday, impacting more than 2 million travelers. 

Cruz’s remarks on Thursday indicate that Republicans likely won’t join Democrats in pushing for stricter rules on the airline industry.

Tags Department of Transportation DOT Maria Cantwell Pete Buttigieg southwest airlines Ted Cruz

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