Transportation Secretary vows to be firm with airlines when needed to protect passengers

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is taking a proactive approach to ensure airlines fulfill their obligations and provide better consumer protections for passengers. The Biden administration is committed to an extensive upgrade in passenger rights.

In an interview with Reuters, Buttigieg emphasized that his department will enforce airline accountability and investigate any instances of misbehavior. He has already taken action by opening numerous investigations and imposing fines on carriers for their actions. President Joe Biden has been vocal in his criticism of airlines, advocating for fair treatment of passengers and their rights.

While Buttigieg aims to collaborate with airlines when possible, he is determined to assertively advocate for passengers’ interests. He expressed his commitment to achieving the most significant expansion of passenger rights in years, which might naturally lead to tensions with the industry.

Notably, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby recently shifted his stance, previously criticizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for alleged failures but later adopting a more conciliatory approach. In response, Buttigieg acknowledged that his department is closely monitoring airline performance, particularly in situations like United’s higher cancellations, partly attributed to air traffic control staffing issues.

The U.S. Transportation Secretary’s dedication to enhancing passenger experiences and holding airlines accountable demonstrates the administration’s commitment to passenger welfare and a more customer-oriented aviation industry.

During the latter part of 2022, Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) faced a significant operational crisis caused by adverse weather conditions, which also affected other airlines. However, the situation was exacerbated by Southwest’s outdated scheduling system. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg initiated an investigation into the meltdown, but he refrained from disclosing the findings at this stage.

Buttigieg acknowledged that the U.S. airline industry has shown signs of improvement compared to the previous year, with lower cancellation rates and more realistic schedules resulting in better outcomes for passengers.

The Department of Transportation is planning to propose new regulations that would require airlines to compensate passengers for significant flight delays or cancellations when carriers are responsible for the disruptions.

Regarding the rollout of 5G C-Band on July 1, Buttigieg expressed relief that the process went better than expected, causing minimal disruptions. In the previous month, concerns were raised about potential delays for airplanes without upgraded radio altimeters. Buttigieg praised the airlines’ readiness, but it required multiple assurances to convince them of the seriousness of the matter. The airlines initially doubted the government’s stance on the issue.

In another matter, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been without a Senate-confirmed administrator since April 2022, and a prior nominee withdrew in March. Buttigieg informed that the White House is close to announcing a new nominee. While it is speculated that former Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker could be the potential nominee, Buttigieg did not confirm the identity of the expected candidate.