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Southwest Is In Meltdown Mode: Blame Pete Buttigieg?

Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines Plane. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

In the Southwest debacle, is Pete Buttigieg to blame?: Travel snafus over the holidays, as well as during nationwide bouts of bad weather, are far from rare. But what’s going on right now with Southwest Airlines is far beyond the norm. 

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Southwest has cancelled a massive number of flights, stranding travelers around the country for days at a time.

According to CNN, Southwest has canceled more than half of its flights since December 22, with 87% of canceled flights in the country coming from that one airline. 

Several factors have been blamed for the debacle. The airline uses an outdated scheduling system that hasn’t been updated since the 1990s, which appears to have collapsed all at once. 

According to the New York Times, Southwest got through Thanksgiving without any significant trouble, but it all hit the fan around Christmas. It was something of a downward spiral, in which flights were canceled because the crews were often not in the right city because they were somewhere else due to previous cancellations. 

“Southwest’s operations went into paralysis, forcing the company to resort to mass cancellations. The debacle has raised questions about [CEO Bob] Jordan’s performance and has prompted employees and analysts to ask why the company has been slow to fix well-known weaknesses in its operations.”

The debacle arrives just over a year into Jordan’s tenure as the airline’s chief executive. 

“The tools we use to recover from disruption serve us well 99 percent of the time,” Jordan said in a video n the company’s website this week, “but clearly we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances.”

The airline’s unions, including Transport Workers Union Local 556 which represents flight attendants, piled o the criticism. 

“It is not weather; it is not staffing; it is not a concerted labor effort; it is the complete failure of Southwest Airlines’ executive leadership. It is their decision to continue to expand and grow without the technology needed to handle it,” union president Lyn Montgomery told the Times. 

Others have pointed fingers in other directions: To the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. 

“This is incompetence. This is what placing unqualified people in positions of power to do the bidding of corporations will get you,” former Ohio Congressional candidate Nina Turner tweeted Wednesday. “There is a direct line from Secretary Buttigieg to the Southwest Airlines debacle and we shouldn’t pretend there isn’t.”

Turner linked to a news story from The Lever, authored by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, stating that “State Officials Warned Buttigieg About Airline Mess.”

The Lever story cites a letter from state attorneys general, written at the end of August, to leaders in Congress. 

“Over the past couple of years, our offices have received thousands of complaints from outraged airline passengers about airline customer service—including about systematic failures to provide required credits to those who lost travel opportunities during the pandemic,” the letter said. 

The letter, however, is not specifically addressed to Buttigieg, but rather to the party leaders in Congress — although it does mention, in its footnotes, a separate letter to the Transportation Secretary by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser — and does not mention Southwest by name. There were, however, other letters this year to Buttigieg from individual state attorneys general as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), asking him to do more about significant customer service problems with the airlines. 

Both Turner and Sirota are veterans of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, and there are known hard feelings between the orbits of Sanders and Buttigieg, who both competed for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Which of the two candidates actually won the botched Iowa caucuses that year, in fact, remains a point of heated contention. 

Buttigieg addressed the crisis on Twitter. 

“Just as we’ve used our regulatory and enforcement tools to secure over $622,000,000 in refunds to hundreds of thousands of US air passengers this year alone, USDOT will continue acting to ensure Southwest passengers get the refunds and expense reimbursements they are owed,” the Secretary said. “A week since the storm hit, every airline but one has recovered. Overall we’re seeing around 3% of flights canceled, excluding the unacceptable performance of Southwest – which canceled 59% yesterday. USDOT is investigating and we are enforcing customer service standards.”

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Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.



  1. GhostTomahawk

    December 29, 2022 at 5:37 pm

    Plenty of blame to go around. If the US knew about it and did nothing to prevent it then they are also on the hook.. to go along with CEO Jordan.

  2. Rick

    December 29, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    As a retired airline pilot I find the scapegoating by the author revealing a complete lack of knowledge of the need for sophisticated software to keep track of a multitude of issues demanded for recovery. How is it that other major airlines didn’t experience similar issues? They invested in expensive IT rather than big bonuses for executives. Before writing articles that arrive at the wrong conclusion the author would be well advised to do some research.

  3. Anybody

    December 30, 2022 at 11:39 am

    ‘Buttigieg’????? I sincerely hope that day will not come where the Transportation Secretary calls the shot of IT spending at a domestic commercial enterprise……. which is what this author seems to be suggesting?

  4. Derek

    December 30, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Fascinatingly emotional and uninformed take, thanks!

  5. tokyowoes

    December 30, 2022 at 9:57 pm

    weak article… graded D for lack of easily discovered information regarding Southwest’s astounding years lack of decent operations management – hysterical to blame government for a self-inflicted debacle years in the making. Here the invisible hand speaks: when you choose to buy your stock back, pay fat cat managers & boost dividends over operations in a viciously competitive low margin business, you eat your liver. Southwest has some of the nicest talented workers in the business. Hopefully, they will get a break after being victimized by the front office.

  6. H.R. Holm

    January 7, 2023 at 8:46 pm

    Why, after decades of operation, does the U.S. airline industry continue to suffer such widespread efficiency problems? Can they never learn how to operate themselves? It’s like a grownup who never could master potty training. Now admittedly, the fridgid cold weather this latest go-around was a real obstacle, and it always will be. It is indeed the ‘constipation’ of air travel. Another contributing factor is so many people’s absurd obsession with just *having* to travel over the year-end holidays. Give it up, people, do what more Japanese reportedly do for Christmas, *stay home* and just send dad out to KFC for a comparatively inexpensive takeout dinner Xmas eve. It’ll keep the kids happy and no one will be stuck at the airport.

  7. Mad

    January 8, 2023 at 9:25 am

    This article is nothing but bad political scapegoating. I’ll be darned if one day I have to live in a country where the ‘government’ makes IT department decisions for a private company. Southwest fails in ops, let them then fail in the market. NO intervention by the government, period.

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