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House Dems to Buttigieg: ‘Much more needs to be done’ following Southwest meltdown

<i>Rick Bowmer/AP</i><br/>
Rick Bowmer/AP

By Pete Muntean, CNN

House Democrats overseeing airlines are telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to come down harder on Southwest Airlines for stranding millions of passengers over the holidays.

“We believe much more needs to be done,” more than two dozen Democrat members of what will be the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure wrote in a letter to Buttigieg shared with CNN. The members have technically not yet been seated in the absence of a new speaker of the House, and the letter was not written on committee letterhead.

While the Democrats say the federal government “has made great progress on expanding the rights of airline passengers,” the Department of Transportation should demand “airlines are able to maintain a reasonable level of operational capabilities in the event of extreme weather or other type of potential disruption.”

Last month, Southwest canceled more than 15,000 flights after a winter storm put planes and crews out of position for days. The airline says it is urgently issuing refunds to passengers for canceled flights and extra expenses they incurred as well as reuniting them with their lost bags.

In the letter, the members go beyond customer compensation, rather taking aim at the systemic failures that led to cancellations as well as the customer service failures that prevented stranded fliers from getting help.

“Refunds and other types of compensation policies quickly become meaningless if there’s not a clear mechanism or platform for passenger redress,” the letter states.

Those who signed the letter say it is on the federal government to issue new “rules and standards that could help limit or prevent future cancellations and delays arising from these initial disruptions will ultimately benefit consumers much more than any reimbursement policy ever could.”

They say Buttigieg has this power under the law, but that he should come back to the committee with “any additional legal authorities the Department may need in order to further bolster protections for airline passengers.”

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