Pete Buttigieg and that Southwest Dramashow Won’t Go Away: On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held an executive session and hearing on “Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protections.”
Witnesses included Southwest Airlines COO Andrew Patterson, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Captain Casey A. Murray, Dr. Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution, Sharon Pinkerton of Airlines for America and Flyers Rights President Paul A. Hudson.
Pete Buttigieg: Still in the Hot Seat
According to a report by The Hill, the session included much criticism of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, although he was not present there.
“The DOT didn’t give any mea culpa to impacted travelers. The Biden DOT didn’t issue refunds, didn’t issue reimbursements, it just screwed up their flights and then proceeded to say, ‘We want to be in charge of how the airlines behave.’”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Democratic chairman of the committee, was also critical of the Department of Transportation, although she also stated that the department needs more resources.
“This sector needs a more effective policeman on the beat. They need someone over at the Department of Transportation who is going to get the job done,” Sen. Cantwell said.
“DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected. The Department welcomes additional congressional support with resources and legislative authority to build on this important work,” the Transportation Department said in a statement this week, per The Hill.
President Biden, in the State of the Union address earlier this week, mentioned airline fees, as part of a larger crackdown on fees Americans are charged by different companies.
“My administration is also taking on ‘junk’ fees, those hidden surcharges too many businesses use to make you pay more,” the president said in the address, per the released transcript. “For example, we’re making airlines show you the full ticket price upfront and refund your money if your flight is cancelled or delayed.”
The president also vowed to “prohibit airlines from charging up to $50 roundtrip for families just to sit together.”
Buttigieg gave an interview Wednesday in which he talked about how that would work.
“The idea that some people have to pay in order to sit next to their kids on a flight, this is just common sense and I feel even more strongly about this now that we’re parents to twins,” the Transportation Secretary told WFTV.
Buttigieg added that the federal rulemaking process might be used.
“My department has been working with the White House to make sure that we have the authority to create a rule requiring airlines to do this,” Buttigieg said in the interview. “I’m calling on the airlines to do this anyway. We shouldn’t have to go through all the process of creating a federal rule. But we will and we are because one way or another, we’ve got to make sure things like that aren’t standing in the way of families having a good experience when they take a trip.”
Of the hearing, per the interview, Buttigieg said that he “wants to hear the company be specific about steps they have taken to improve their systems to make sure the widespread cancellations that passengers faced never happens again.”
Rather than in Washington, Buttigieg was in Luke Charles, Louisiana Thursday, to celebrate progress in the building of a new bridge on Interstate 10. That is being paid for by a $150 million grant from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law from 2021.
“There’s been a lot of waiting and a lot of promises, but talk doesn’t build bridges,” Buttigieg said in Louisiana. “President Biden and our leaders are delivering generational funding.”
Expertise and Experience: 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.