Buttigieg Ignored Multiple Warnings That May Have Prevented Holiday Travel Fiasco

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has ignored multiple warnings that could have prevented the current holiday travel issue — including repeated requests from state attorneys general to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable for the thousands of flight cancellations in the months leading up to the travel-related chaos that took place over the Christmas holiday, which is still ongoing.

The Christmas holiday season — during which many Americans travel across the country to visit loved ones — was hit with thousands of flight cancellations, primarily by Southwest Airlines.

While multiple airlines were affected by the massive winter storm that hit a significant portion of the United States in the days leading up to Christmas, Southwest struggled much worse than other airlines — and has failed to regain its footing in the days after the storm.

The major airline comprised the vast majority of flight cancellations across the country, canceling a total of 1,635 flights on Christmas Day. On Monday, the number of flights canceled by Southwest increased to 2,909 canceled flights — meaning that the airline had canceled 71% of its flights. The airline also canceled 2,694 flights on Tuesday.

Buttigieg is now facing increased scrutiny to penalize airlines such as Southwest for these flight cancellations, this is not the first time that the transportation secretary has been called upon to hold airlines accountable.

In one instance that took place over the summer, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent a letter to Buttigieg warning him about “the deeply troubling and escalating pattern of airlines delaying and canceling flights” during holiday flight seasons.

“Airlines have attributed cancellations to staffing shortages, particularly due to a purported shortage of airline pilots,” she wrote. “Yet, as you have acknowledged, the pilot shortage is due in large part to actions taken by the airlines forcing pilots into early retirement or otherwise shrinking their pilot pool.”

Just a few weeks later, a bipartisan group of 38 state attorneys general sent a letter to Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress accusing the Department of Transportation (DOT) of facilitating an environment that “allows airlines to mistreat consumers and leaves consumers without effective redress.”

“If state attorneys general had a substantial and meaningful role in overseeing airline consumer protection, the failure of the US DOT would be ameliorated by the ability of state attorneys general to enforce the law,” the letter read.

Another letter was also sent by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to both Buttigieg and Transportation Department General Counsel John Putnam imploring the agency to “fully utilize its statutory authority to protect consumers and promote competition in the airline industry.”

However, the Department of Transportation — under Buttigieg’s leadership — failed to take any meaningful actions to hold these airlines accountable, which could have prevented the ongoing travel chaos.

Instead, Buttigieg did a media tour claiming that the problem was being solved — with no evidence to back up those claims.

In a TV appearance in early September, the transportation secretary claimed that airline travel “is going to get better by the holidays.”

Buttigieg also told talk show host James Corden that the DOT is “really pressing the airlines to deliver better service.”

Even as recently as December, state officials were calling on Buttigieg to take action.

Another group of 34 state attorneys general — led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) — urged Buttigieg to “impose significant fines for cancellations and extended delays that are not weather-related or otherwise unavoidable.”

“As many Coloradans are planning to travel during the holidays and looking forward to seeing loved ones, now is a good time to remind USDOT that it has the opportunity to hold airlines accountable when they mistreat consumers, helping add ease to consumers’ future travel plans and lessen unexpected financial burdens,” Weiser said in a press release.

Despite these numerous warnings and calls for action, Buttigieg still hasn’t done anything. The DOT has yet to impose any fines on Southwest Airlines for the more than 3,000 flights that have been canceled since Christmas.