President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, ignored repeated pleas from state attorneys general to protect consumers and hold airlines accountable for canceling flights in the months leading up to the holiday travel fiasco in Classes.
This Christmas holiday season has been plagued by thousands of flight cancellations, mostly by Southwest Airlines, which failed to regain its footing after a massive winter storm hit the United States.
With Buttigieg under increased scrutiny for penalizing airlines like Southwest for the thousands of canceled flights, this holiday season isn’t the first time Buttigieg has been asked to hold airlines accountable.
For example, over the summer New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent Buttigieg a letter warning of “the deeply troubling and growing pattern of airlines delaying and canceling flights” during holiday flying seasons. James wrote:
Airlines attributed the cancellations to staff shortages, including an alleged shortage of airline pilots. Yet, as you have acknowledged, the pilot shortage is largely due to actions taken by airlines to force pilots to retire early or reduce their pilot pool.
Weeks after James’ letter, a coalition of 38 bipartisan attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders accusing the Department of Transportation of facilitating an environment that “allows airlines to abuse consumers and leaves consumers without effective remedy.” .
“If state attorneys general had a substantial and meaningful role in overseeing airline consumer protection, the US DOT’s failure would be ameliorated by state attorneys general’s ability to enforce the law,” wrote state attorneys general.
Over the summer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also sent a letter to Buttigieg and Transportation Department General Counsel John Putnam urging the agency to “fully use its legal authority to protect consumers and promote competition in the airline industry”.
Despite these repeated requests, the Buttigieg Department of Transportation has failed to take meaningful action that would have prevented the ongoing vacation travel fiasco.
Instead, Buttigieg appeared on TV in early September and claimed air travel “is going to get better over the holidays.” Buttigieg also told talk show host James Corden that the Department of Transportation is “really pushing the airlines to provide better service.”
Still, state officials urged Buttigieg to take action as recently as December.
A coalition of 34 state attorneys general led by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D) called on Buttigieg to “impose significant fines for cancellations and extended delays that are unrelated to weather or otherwise unavoidable” . Weiser said:
As many Coloradans plan to travel over the holidays and look forward to seeing their loved ones, now is a good time to remind the USDOT that it has the ability to hold airlines accountable when they mistreat consumers, making it easier consumers’ future travel plans and reduce unforeseen financial burdens.
Buttigieg has yet to issue fines to Southwest Airlines for the more than 3,000 flights canceled since Christmas.