Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is being ripped for his response to the airline meltdown that left thousands of people stranded on Christmas after he assured Americans just months ago that ongoing air travel issues would improve before the holidays.
During a September appearance on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Buttigieg said he was increasing pressure on U.S. airlines after travelers experienced an expensive and chaotic summer.
“I think it’s gonna get better by the holidays,” the transportation secretary said at the time. “We’re really pressing the airlines to deliver better service. So many people have been delayed, been canceled, it happened to me several times this summer. And the fact is they need to be ready to service the tickets that they’re selling.”
“If you’ve ever been mistreated by an airline, if they haven’t given you the refund they owe you, if they haven’t lived up to their customer service obligations, we will have your back,” he said. “We went from zero of the top 10 airlines committing that they’re going to provide a meal or hotel, for example, to eight out of 10 doing it. So we’re pushing them.”
This week, Buttigieg called on Southwest Airlines to fully compensate customers for travel, meal and lodging expenses after thousands of flights were canceled and travelers were left stranded at airports over the holidays.
Buttiegieg is taking heat from both sides of the political aisle over the fiasco.
Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said Buttigieg should increase pressure on Southwest Airlines and audit to see how billions in taxpayer-funded relief the company received was spent. She told “Hannity” that her role on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is key to her interest in finding answers, along with the fact her teenagers had been stranded at BWI Airport in Baltimore on Christmas Eve.
“[T]his hit close to home, because my kids my teenage kids got stranded in Baltimore trying to make it home on Christmas Eve. And even today, five days later, we still don’t know where their luggage is right now,” she said. “And so we’ve been personally impacted by this.”
Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, echoed much of Mace’s sentiments, telling Hannity that Buttigieg is unqualified to serve in his current role, pointing to the supply chain crisis early in his tenure.
“Earlier this year, we had the rail strike potential looming over us,” Van Duyne said. “We were going to have, again, I mean, a massive amount of hit to our economy. You’re going to have municipalities that couldn’t get chemicals to be able to treat their water supply. And where was Pete? Oh, that’s right. He was on a family vacation in Portugal.”
“This is a man who was not qualified for the job, has never really been on the job,” she added. “And we’ve trusted him with $1.2 trillion worth of taxpayer dollars.”
Nina Turner, the national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, blamed the problem on Buttigieg’s outsized ambitions for higher office.
“What’s happening with the railroads, airlines & the supply chain is a result of a small city mayor being made the Secretary of Transportation as a means to pad his resume for President,” she tweeted Tuesday. “Secretary Buttigieg is a prime example of failing up.”
The Senate Commerce Committee stated that it would investigate Southwest for the cancelations.
“The problems at Southwest Airlines over the last several days go beyond weather,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee on Commerce, said in a statement Tuesday. “The committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers.”
Buttigieg was warned by members of his own party about concerns within the airline industry before Southwest’s mass cancelations. Cantwell, along with Sen. Ed Markey D-Mass. and Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., filed a comment in November to the Department of Transportation on the need to hurry its process to finalize a rule to ensure that consumers are properly refunded for cancelations and get accommodations.
In August, a bipartisan group of 38 state attorneys general wrote to Congress to report that Buttigieg was failing to adequately respond to airline consumer complaints, and they asked for legislation to allow states to enforce federal consumer protection laws.
“Americans are justifiably frustrated that federal government agencies charged with overseeing airline consumer protection are unable or unwilling to hold the airline industry accountable and to swiftly investigate complaints submitted to the US DOT,” read the letter signed by Arizona’s Mark Brnovic, New York’s Letitia James and others.
Fox News’ Charles Creitz and Patrick Hauf contributed to this report.