Pete Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s transportation secretary, did not listen to state attorneys general’s repeated pleas to safeguard the consumer and make airlines accountable for the cancellations of flights during the months prior to the current holiday travel crisis.
This holiday season has seen thousands of flight cancellations, mostly due to Southwest Airlines, which has failed to get back on track following a major winter storm striking the United States.
While Buttigieg is being scrutinized more closely regarding penalizing airlines such as Southwest for the thousands of flights canceled, this holiday season is not the only time he has been urged to hold companies accountable.
For instance, during the course of the summer, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) wrote a letter to Buttigieg warning about “the deeply troubling and escalating pattern of airlines delaying and canceling flights” during the holiday flight season.
James wrote: “Airlines have attributed cancellations to staffing shortages, particularly due to a purported shortage of airline pilots. 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 after James's letter, a group of 38 state attorneys general wrote a letter to Congressional leaders, in which they condemned officials from the Department of Transportation for 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 state attorneys general wrote.
In the summer, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also wrote to Buttigieg and Transportation Department General Counsel John Putnam, urging the agency to “fully utilize its statutory authority to protect consumers and promote competition in the airline industry.”
Despite the numerous requests, Buttigieg’s Department of Transportation failed to take significant steps that could have stopped the ongoing vacation-travel scandal.
In contrast, Buttigieg appeared on television in early September and said that travel on airlines “is going to get better by the holidays.” Buttigieg also informed talk-show host James Corden that the Transportation Department is “really pressing the airlines to deliver better service.”
Yet, state officials were continuing to urge Buttigieg to do more as late as December.
A group composed of 34 state attorneys general, headed by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D), called on Buttigieg to “impose significant fines for cancellations and extended delays that are not weather-related or otherwise unavoidable.”
Weiser added, “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.”
Buttigieg has not yet imposed any penalties against Southwest Airlines for the more than 3,000 flights that have been canceled in the last few days since Christmas.