Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) plans to reintroduce legislation creating a “bill of rights” for airline passengers following the recent logistical meltdown at Southwest Airlines that left thousands of passengers stranded across the country.
The company nixed roughly two-thirds of flights during the busy Christmas travel season, even after severe winter weather conditions had subsided and other carriers had ceased canceling an elevated number of flights. Southwest announced a return to normal operations beginning on December 30; cancelation data provided by FlightAware show the company is currently at parity with other major airlines.
Blumenthal is submitting legislation to the new Congress that would provide various reimbursement guarantees to passengers impacted by future flight cancelations. “The kind of disaster that we saw with Southwest simply dramatizes an ongoing failure by the airlines to respect basic passenger rights,” the lawmakers said in an interview with CBS. “Rental cars, hotel, meals, no questions asked, money back.”
Similar legislation filed by Blumenthal during the last Congress would have granted “protections for airline passengers from being required to involuntarily relinquish their seats,” mandated “training on the rights of passengers” for airline staff, restricted “unreasonable air carrier fees,” and provided “compensation to passengers” for delayed or canceled flights.
Other lawmakers have likewise called for increased regulations on the airline industry following the holiday travel meltdown. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) cited an earlier admonition to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in which they called for the official to establish rules guaranteeing refunds for passengers impacted by canceled or delayed flights.
“Taxpayers bailed out the airline industry during their time of need,” Sanders wrote. “It is the responsibility of the airline industry and the Department of Transportation to ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the flying public and crew members are able to get to their destinations on time and without delay.”
Share prices for Southwest have fallen more than 15% over the past month as executives scramble to win back the trust of disaffected customers. Leadership in the company’s pilot union has claimed the surge in cancelations was attributable to “a combination of processes, outdated technology, and infrastructure.” The airline is unique among other major carriers because flights are organized by a point-to-point system rather than a hub model.
Southwest CEO Bob Jordan remarked in a recent statement that the firm is conducting a “thorough review” of the disruptions. “We’ve already taken immediate actions to mitigate the risk of this ever happening again, and the review work will inform additional actions and investment as well,” he said. “We’ve asked our unions to participate in this review effort as well, and likewise we are in regular communication with our Board of Directors.”
Some 54 million passengers planned to depart from airports between December 18 and January 3, marking a 20% increase in holiday travel from last year despite persistent cost pressures and other economic headwinds, according to data from Hopper. The snowfall and frigid temperatures also presented obstacles to major delivery services as Americans waited for last-minute Christmas presents: FedEx and UPS issued statements warning of delays, while Amazon and the United States Postal Service shuttered multiple locations.