Senate to investigate Southwest Airlines holiday travel fiasco

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Southwest Airlines jets are seen parked at their gates at Baltimore Washington International Airport in Baltimore, Md. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Senate to investigate Southwest Airlines holiday travel fiasco

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Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is planning to hold hearings on the mass Southwest holiday flight cancellation spree.

Her committee will examine the “root causes” of the meltdown, assess methods of bolstering consumer protections, and consider strengthened refund rules. Just after Christmas, Southwest canceled about two-thirds of its flights, dramatically more than any other airline at the time, amid logistical woes.

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

Federal Aviation Administration operations must be reauthorized by Sept. 30, according to Reuters. Cantwell is planning to investigate that reauthorization process as part of the hearings to get better insights into how the FAA oversees companies such as Southwest.

Southwest has pledged to allow afflicted customers to receive a flight credit or full refund due to the issues between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2. The company attributed the mass cancellations to “continuing challenges” after “consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network,” but accounted for nearly 90% of flight cancellations three days after Christmas.

Winter weather caused cancellations throughout the airline industry before Christmas, but Southwest became straddled with outdated scheduling software and a poor phone system, CNN reported. Some former employees argued that the company failed to invest in its internal infrastructure over the long term.

“The problems at Southwest Airlines over the last several days go beyond weather. The Committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers. Many airlines fail to communicate with consumers during flight cancellations adequately. Consumers deserve strong protections, including an updated consumer refund rule,” Cantwell said on Dec. 27 of last year.

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The Department of Transportation previously proposed rules in July 2021 to require airlines to refund baggage flees for flights that are delayed significantly or for services such as Wi-Fi that don’t work properly. Last November, Cantwell, alongside Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), filed a comment on the proposed rule imploring the department to strengthen it.

The Washington Examiner contacted Southwest for comment.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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