Lawmakers have criticized Southwest Airlines for canceling a series of flights in recent days. A bitter cold front has swept across the country this holiday season, bringing snow and freezing temperatures. While the airline is currently resetting by moving crews around the country and emptying planes to seat crews accordingly, lawmakers are pushing for oversight.
Southwest isn’t the only airline experiencing this type of widespread trouble, as several airlines are facing a flood of cancellations. Still, Southwest canceled at least 70% of its flights on Monday due to weather and reported system outages. The airline canceled 62% of its flights on Tuesday. In a string of misadventures for holiday travelers, 42 percent of Southwest Airlines flights were canceled on Christmas Day and 48 percent were delayed, according to FlightAware.
On Tuesday, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee, said her panel would investigate the reason for Southwest’s flight cancellations because “the problems with Southwest over the past few days went beyond the weather. The committee will look into those disruptions.” and its impact on consumers. Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with consumers during flight cancellations. Consumers deserve strong protections, including updated consumer refund rules.”
The deluge of cancellations prompted the Biden administration to step in. President Joe Biden said the “administration is working hard to ensure that airlines are held accountable,” with the Department of Transportation adding, “We are concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays and lack of reported timely customer service. We will check Whether the cancellation is manageable and whether Southwest Airlines is adhering to its customer service program.”
Aggressive schedules and underinvestment in operations, combined with shorter flights and tighter turnaround times, have sent the airline into a chaotic frenzy. Stranded customers were unable to reach Southwest’s customer service line to rebook flights or find lost luggage.
Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), members of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a message vouching for the frustrated flyers: “[T]Companies can start by fairly compensating passengers for flight cancellations, including not only rebookings, refunds, and hotel, meal, and transportation reimbursements, but also substantial monetary compensation for interruptions to vacation plans. Southwest Airlines plans to pay out $428 million in dividends next year — a company capable of doing the right thing for hurting consumers. Flight cancellations are not solely the fault of bad weather, so the public is holding airlines accountable for internal system failures.