Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) blasted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for enabling Southwest Airlines to cancel more than 15,000 flights over the busy holiday season without consequence.
“Southwest’s flight delays & cancellations are beyond unacceptable,” Sanders tweeted on Wednesday evening.
“This is a company that got a $7 billion taxpayer bailout & will be handing out $428 million in dividends to their wealthy shareholders,” he accused.
Southwest caused a nightmare for travelers over the holidays, when they cancelled more than two-thirds of their flight schedule the week after Christmas.
The Dallas-based airline began floundering the Wednesday before the holiday, when they were responsible for cancelling 87% of the flights in the United States.
The majority of other airlines struggled across the board on Dec. 23 and 24, due to the “once in a generation” storm that ushered in freezing temperatures and dumped snow throughout the country.
While most airlines recovered on Christmas Day, Southwest still had cancellation rates of 33%, which surged up to 60-70% in the following three days.
“This is impacting so many people, so many customers over the holidays. It’s impacted our employees and I’m extremely sorry for that,” CEO Bob Jordan apologized during a Friday interview with “Good Morning America.”
“There’s just no way almost to apologize enough because we love our customers, we love our people and really impacted their plans. There will be a lot of lessons learned that come out of this.”
Thousands of travelers were forced to camp out in airports across the country, while handling the expenses of hotels, car rentals, and flights on other airlines out of their pockets.
Jordan said that the airline was committed to refunding customers for the travel related expenses they incurred during the flight disruption.
“Our desire is to go above and beyond. We always take care of our customers, that’s our 51-year history here at Southwest Airlines,” he explained.
“We’ll be looking at and taking care of things like rental cars, hotel rooms, meals, booking customers on other airlines, so that will all be part of what we’re covering here as we reimburse our customers and make good on this issue.”
Sanders wasn’t impressed by Jordan’s mea-culpa, and wants the DOT to make him pay, after the government kept the airline industry afloat during the pandemic with a $54 billion infusion of aid.
“[The Department of Transportation] must hold Southwest’s CEO accountable for his greed and incompetence,” Sanders concluded.
In June, Sanders wrote a letter to Buttigieg about airline cancellations, delays, and skyrocketing prices.
He urged the Transportation Secretary to “take immediate action” to protect the rights of the nation’s airline passengers.
“While the price of airline tickets have skyrocketed by 38 percent over the last year, airline delays
have increased by 50 percent and cancellations are up by 18 percent compared to where they were before the pandemic,” he wrote.
“So far this year, one out of every five flights in the United States were delayed, while airlines are cancelling flights four times as often on high-travel weekends than they did in 2019.”
Sanders also pointed out how much airlines benefited from taxpayer assistance in 2020.
“Let’s be clear,” he reminded Buttigieg. “During the pandemic, when air travel came to a near
halt, U.S. taxpayers came to the rescue and gave $54 billion to the airline industry.”
“Given all of the generous taxpayer support that has been provided to the airline industry, all of us
have a responsibility to make sure that passengers and crew members are treated with respect, not contempt,” he noted.
Sanders wasn’t the only one to attack Buttigieg, congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) also piled on the accusations.
“Nearly six months ago [Sanders] & I called for Buttigieg to implement fines & penalties on airlines for cancelling flights,” he tweeted on Thursday.
“Why were these recommendations not followed? This mess with Southwest could have been avoided. We need bold action.”
In a letter to Southwest this week, Buttigieg said the DOT would “ensure” the airline refunded passengers in a timely manner, and threatened penalties if they failed to comply.
“Under the law, Southwest must provide prompt refunds when a carrier cancels a passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight, regardless of the reason, unless the passenger accepts rebooking,” the Transportation Secretary wrote.
“This means Southwest must provide refunds within seven business days if a passenger paid by credit card, and within 20 days if a passenger paid by cash, check or other means.”
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) blasted Buttigieg for waiting days to address the crisis.
“People are outraged,” she explained on Fox & Friends. “It took four days and thousands and thousands of cancellations for DOT to finally speak up.”
“Same thing, it took four days for the CEO of Southwest to finally speak up,” Mace continued.
“I hope at some point the government when we are intervening and looking at some of these issues that we are more efficient and more effective.”