Over the Christmas weekend, much of the country experienced catastrophic winter storms. While it's understandable that flight cancelations would take place as a matter of safety, one particular airline really dropped the ball and stands out apart from the rest, and not in a good way. For the airline's handling of cancelations and resulting customer service complaints, "Southwest" has been consistently trending on Twitter for some time now.
The situation was so bad that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) actually took notice, resulting in several tweets from Monday and Tuesday.
You can read Southwest’s customer service plan here: https://t.co/2vmG9v9nK5— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
A tweet from Monday evening merely stated that the department was "concerned" with the cancelation rate that they referred to as "unacceptable," the same sentiment no doubt that others with far less authority were feeling. The tweet also noted that the department would "examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan," and in that thread tweeted a link to the customer service plan.
The department tweeted another thread on Tuesday, sharing that Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who helms the department, spoke with the airline's CEO and union leaders "to convey the Department’s expectation that Southwest meet its obligations to passengers and workers and take steps to prevent a situation like this from happening again."
A link to Aviation Consumer Protection was also tweeted out.
Southwest’s customer service plan commits the airline to providing meal vouchers and hotels where available to passengers who are experiencing significant delays and cancelations. Read the plan here: https://t.co/2vmG9v9nK5— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
If you are experiencing difficulties in your travel, you can visit our Office of Aviation Consumer Protection's website to learn more about your rights and file a complaint if needed: https://t.co/NM286CEShz— TransportationGov (@USDOT) December 27, 2022
Later on Tuesday, Buttigieg, from his official Twitter account, touted his media appearance speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer. He emphasized how it was "an unacceptable situation," given not just with regards to stranded passengers, but to such passengers reaching customer service agents and how the airline couldn't even locate where crew members and baggage were, in addition to passengers. He went on to expand upon how the airline shared that they have "a number of issues" with their systems to manage schedules and where crew members are.
Buttigieg also expanded upon the USDOT's tweet with regards to what he talked to the airline about, in that the department expects Southwest "to go above and beyond to take care of passengers and to address this."
In another tweet, he also called on other airlines to cap fares "to help people who need to get home," going on to add that he was "encouraged to see [how] several airlines have now committed to this step." Buttigieg may be "encouraged," but the situation still remains dire for many trying to get home.
As travelers look to rebook due to Southwest's cancellations, other airlines should cap fares on these routes to help people who need to get home. I'm encouraged to see several airlines have now committed to this step – all of them should.— Secretary Pete Buttigieg (@SecretaryPete) December 27, 2022
While other airlines have a cancelation rate of about 5 percent, as Buttigieg told Blitzer, Southwest has had a cancelation of more than 70 percent.
Buttigieg doubled down on assuring how the department "will be holding [Southwest] accountable for their responsibilities to customers, both to get them through this situation and to make sure that this can't happen again."
One can't blame those who would be skeptical of such assurances, though. For Buttigieg doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to crises that fall under his purview, as Townhall has extensively covered.
For instance, when it appeared that the country was headed for a railway strike, the Biden administration claimed that it was an all hands on deck effort, with the likes of Buttigieg and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack were among those working to prevent the strike from happening. As it turns out, though, Buttigieg was busy vacationing in Portugal.
Buttigieg had similarly been away, out on paternity leave, when the country faced a supply chain crisis last year.
Even when home, Buttigieg hasn't exactly been doing a stellar job. Flight cancelations similarly plagued the country over the summer, especially over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. While Buttigieg lamented early retirement of pilots, he neglected to point out how many were pushed out due to COVID vaccine mandates. The secretary himself even opposed raising the retirement age of commercial airline pilots from 65- to 67-years-old.
His response ahead of the 4th of July holiday was so poor that even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) called the secretary out, as the Daily Mail highlighted at the time.
When it comes to how Southwest, they've had a particularly paltry response over social media. They last tweeted on Monday morning, which is now their pinned tweet, about how they "continue to experience high call and social inquiry volumes," and that they are asking people to check their flight status at the link provided. In other words, they can't seem to be bothered.