WASHINGTON — A group of Democratic senators are seeking an explanation from Southwest Airlines for its operational meltdown last month, another sign of the mounting frustration on Capitol Hill over the recent chaos in the nation’s air travel system.
In a letter sent on Wednesday to Southwest’s chief executive, Bob Jordan, the lawmakers posed dozens of questions to the airline, addressing topics like its flight-crew scheduling system, ticket refunds and executive compensation. The letter was signed by 13 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, including Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, who spearheaded it.
“No business can treat its customers like that and get away with it,” Mr. Markey said in a statement. “C.E.O. Bob Jordan owes these passengers and the public answers about what went wrong at his airline and what steps Southwest is taking to make sure this inexcusable incident never happens again.”
Around Christmas, a storm wreaked havoc on Southwest’s operations, leaving travelers stranded during the busy holiday travel season. While other airlines were able to recover, Southwest found itself crippled, in part as a result of outdated scheduling technology for its flight crews. In total, the airline canceled more than 16,700 flights.
“For consumers across the country, this failure was more than a headache — it was a nightmare,” the senators wrote in their letter.
In response to the meltdown, Southwest is refunding tickets for canceled flights and reimbursing expenses like hotels and rental cars for customers whose travel plans were upended. The company is also giving 25,000 frequent-flier points, worth about $300, to customers who experienced disruptions.
A spokesman for Southwest, Chris Perry, said in a statement, “We appreciate the concerns expressed in the letter from the senators and share in the commitment to ensuring Southwest’s customers are properly cared for and that actions are taken to mitigate risks of this happening again.”
As the new Congress gets underway, the nation’s recent air travel woes are drawing the attention of lawmakers. On Wednesday, a Federal Aviation Administration system outage caused thousands of flights to be delayed; for about 90 minutes, the agency halted flights from taking off nationwide.
In the wake of the Southwest meltdown, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said her panel would look into what had happened and hold hearings to consider how to bolster consumer protections and improve airline operations.
Southwest is also under pressure from Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, who in a letter to Mr. Jordan in late December called the travel disruptions “unacceptable” and reminded him of the airline’s obligations to customers who experience delays or cancellations. Mr. Buttigieg, in turn, has faced criticism over both the Southwest debacle and the F.A.A. system outage.
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