Buttigieg responds to critics of Christmas chaos, pledges ‘full force’ of DOT to compel Southwest redress
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg responded Thursday to critics following a disastrous Christmas travel week compounded by nationwide snowstorms and thousands of canceled flights, most notably from Texas-based Southwest Airlines.
Buttigieg reiterated that USDOT made a “ton of progress” in promised preparations for the winter travel season, despite critics’ claims his agency dropped the ball.
Anchor Bret Baier cited comments Buttigieg made in September to CBS comic James Corden about making sure travel would get better by the time Christmas came around:
“[T]he evidence of that is we had an epic storm hit the United States, and within a few days, almost all the airlines had recovered,” Buttigieg replied on “Special Report.”
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“Matter of fact, every airline recovered except for one – Southwest Airlines. That’s right: They failed to invest in the kind of IT systems that they needed and made a number of other operational mistakes.”
When asked if USDOT was aware of Southwest’s antiquated scheduling system prior to the Christmas rush, the secretary replied he does not run the airline, but does regulate it.
“So what we’re doing right now is using the full force of this department to make sure customers get taken care of – I made clear to Southwest Airlines that they will be required by our department – by the way, this is something that wouldn’t have been possible before the work we did this summer – They are now required to cover lodging, to cover ground expenses, to cover hotels for these delays and cancelations that were their responsibility.”
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Buttigieg noted Southwest CEO Bob Jordan is “pretty new,” having only gotten into the job in February 2022, but that the airline should have been taking corrective action years before the new boss took over.
“What I know for sure is that — and this is important for anybody who’s watching this to know – you are required to get your money back if your flight was canceled and you’re required to get it within 7 days… and you are required to get your expenses covered. I know a lot of passengers right now still having issues.”
Baier later pressed Buttigieg on a handful of other situations for which USDOT has taken criticism, including the supply chain crisis, which largely hit its apex while the secretary was on paternity leave.
“It’s nonsense,” Buttigieg replied. “Let’s start with the supply chain crisis. I worked that issue before, during and after the time that I was focusing on my children.”
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He added that, though media outlets were predicting “Christmas was going to be cancelled” because of the lack of goods and the like, the reality was that retailers enjoyed record sales.
As for the formerly looming rail strike in late 2022, Buttigieg said he had been actively working on Capitol Hill and in his office to avert what would’ve been a catastrophe for American commerce.
“I think the night before the tentative agreement, I remember going to bed at 1 and then being back up to check my phone at 4 [o’clock],” he said.
In closing, Baier also asked Buttigieg about a recent senatorial retirement from a state which he recently moved to.
Since the former South Bend, Ind., mayor reportedly relocated north to Michigan, Buttigieg was asked about the possibility of running in 2024 to replace fellow Democrat Deborah Stabenow.
“I’m completely focused on doing this job, and I’m not planning to run for anything,” he said when asked if he would rule out running to replace Stabenow, who was first elected in 2000.
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