Southwest Airlines faces growing federal scrutiny after Christmas cancellations

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The federal government has set its sights on Southwest Airlines after canceling thousands of flights over the Christmas holidays, leaving tens of thousands of travelers stranded.

The Southwest’s problems cannot be entirely attributed to winter storms. While other airlines have had some weather-related cancellations, Southwest Airlines canceled more than 15,000 of her flights over the holidays, and normal operations may not resume until the new year.

Key figures from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to Senate Commerce Committee chairman Sen. We focus on whether we are reimbursing our customers for the costs incurred. another flight.

“At the very least, we need cash refunds for canceled flights, and we need to take care of passengers who are stranded with meals and hotel compensation,” said Buttigieg, who has been in contact with Southwest leaders at NBC. said in Tuesday evening news.

Buttigieg said on Wednesday that the transport ministry would “make extraordinary efforts” to ensure that travelers are fully compensated.

“Southwest must find ways to not only be financially perfect, but to truly rebuild trust and confidence in order to restore customer relationships,” he said in ABC’s “Good Morning.” said in America.

Cantwell said a commission dealing with aviation issues will investigate the cause of the meltdown and its impact on travelers.

Cantwell and other senators told the Department of Transportation last month that airlines could cancel or significantly delay flights, she said. It called for strengthening the proposed reimbursement rules by requiring airlines to cover incidental costs such as traveler’s food, lodging and transportation costs in the event of an accident.

“Many airlines are unable to properly communicate with consumers when flights are canceled. Consumers deserve strong protections, including updated consumer refund rules,” Cantwell said. said in a statement.

Southwest CEO Bob Jordan apologized in a video on Wednesday, saying the company would “go above and beyond” to offer refunds to customers and help those who took the expensive detour. rice field.

“We are doing everything we can to get back to normal operations and we are truly sorry,” he said.

According to the airline’s customer service plan, Southwest Airlines will rebook travelers on the next available flight free of charge and refund customers’ meals and lodging costs in the event of delays or cancellations within the company’s control. increase.

Jordan admitted Wednesday that the airline needs to update its decades-old scheduling software. He said it was becoming difficult to direct flight attendants to the appropriate aircraft.

“The tools you use to recover from chaos will help you 99% of the time, but to avoid facing what’s happening now again, you need to revoke your existing plans to upgrade your systems for these extreme situations. It’s clear that we need to do more,” said Jordan.

Southwest Airlines is only operating about a third of its flights to clear its backlog. Jordan said he was optimistic the airline would be back on track by next week.

Southwest Airlines canceled more than 2,500 flights on Wednesday, accounting for the majority of the 2,800 US-based cancellations, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware. Southwest Airlines canceled 5,600 of her flights Monday and Tuesday.

Customers have been having a hard time contacting Southwest representatives this week to get information about upcoming flights or to access their packages.

Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday night, “As far as I know, Southwest Airlines can’t even identify where the crew is, let alone their luggage, let alone their passengers.”

Winter storms hit Southwest Airlines’ hubs in Chicago and Denver particularly hard, causing thousands of cancellations and leaving pilots and flight attendants unable to get to their next flight. Workers also blame Southwest Airlines for scheduling too many flights, knowing that winter storms and sick workers would keep things from going smoothly.

“If you’re dealing with freezing temperatures, high winds and ice storms, you can’t expect to schedule flights as if every day was a sunny day with mild temperatures and gentle winds,” said the Transport Workers’ Union. Randy Burns, Chairman of the Local 555, which represents groundworkers in the American Southwest, said in a statement:

Burns added that many Southwest ground workers were forced to work 16 to 18 hour days during the holiday season, with some “experiencing frostbite in the past week.”

This could anger lawmakers who provided Southwest Airlines and other airlines with billions of dollars in federal aid to keep their employees on the job in the midst of the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines was the first major airline to resume dividends this month after restrictions on dividends and investor buybacks attached to federal subsidies expired.

The Southwest meltdown will spoil what has been a strong stretch for airlines in recent months. U.S. airlines canceled less than 300 of his flights over Thanksgiving weekend, according to masFlight data.

It has also overshadowed the relatively strong performance of other US airlines. Delta, United and American canceled a total of 44 flights on Wednesday, according to FlightAware.

1:37pm update

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