Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is facing heavy criticism from even the Left after Southwest Airlines encountered some problems over the Christmas holiday weekend and this week.
In light of the mass delay and cancellations customers of the carrier have been subjected to across the country, the Department of Transportation’s methods are being scrutinized by both political parties.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) on Thursday questioned the department’s response to the fiasco that left travelers deserted, saying it could have been avoided. “Nearly six months ago @BernieSanders & I called for Buttigieg to implement fines & penalties on airlines for canceling flights. Why were these recommendations not followed?” Khanna tweeted.
The congressman also told The Progress this week that Buttigieg needs to stand firm on his authority to hold airlines responsible for “unfair and deceptive practices.”
In a Wednesday tweet, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) requested that the transportation department wield its power to hold the Dallas-based airline’s CEO accountable for “his greed and incompetence.”
Southwest's flight delays & cancellations are beyond unacceptable. This is a company that got a $7 billion taxpayer bailout & will be handing out $428 million in dividends to their wealthy shareholders. @USDOT must hold Southwest's CEO accountable for his greed and incompetence.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 29, 2022
Joining the calls for Buttigieg is the editor of the political magazine Jacobin David Sirota, who asked that “Secretary Buttigieg impose fines on airlines that delay or cancel flights for reasons that have nothing to do with the weather.”
In a newsletter, Sirota pointed to recent complaints from law enforcement officials about airlines mistreating customers. He then asked that Buttigieg use his existing power to ensure airlines provide full refunds when they cancel flights.
After the Southwest episode, Buttigieg promised to work towards a solution by talking to the airline’s CEO and other relevant authorities.
In an interview with ABC this week, he explained that the department had not experienced such a volume of disruption under him. He then pledged to take extraordinary steps to ensure Southwest does the hard work of meeting its obligations.
The fulfillment of Buttigieg’s promises might be worth looking out for given the DOT’s reported history of pushing airlines to do more for passengers who had a flight unduly canceled or delayed. According to a spokesperson for the department, Buttigieg has prompted airlines to alleviate customers’ losses in such cases, sometimes by covering the costs of rebooking and guaranteeing meals or hotels.
Per the spokesperson, the department has also helped “hundreds of thousands of people” get “hundreds of millions of dollars” back this year with its enforcement of fines reported to be the largest in the history of the consumer protection office for the year.