Southwest faces investigations from Biden Administration and Congress after holiday travel delays [Video]

Southwest Airlines (LUV) is facing investigations from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue after massive flight disruptions during the three-day holiday weekend, with nearly 3,000 scheduled flights canceled on Monday alone.

On one front, President Biden and his Transportation Department are launching a look into whether the company is complying with its customer service plan. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, a powerful Senate panel announced their own plans to look into the issue.

The rapidly escalating scandal for the company included a call between Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Southwest CEO Bob Jordan on Tuesday afternoon.

During the call, Buttigieg said he expected the company to live up to the commitments and underscored that if it doesn’t, then his department “will take action to hold Southwest accountable,”according to a Transportation Department spokesperson.

Jordan confirmed the call in a video message Tuesday night, saying he reached out to Buttigieg to share “all the things we are doing to make things right for our customers.” He said the company’s goal is to get back to normal operations before next week, but before then, “we have some real work to do.”

Dulles, VA - NOVEMBER 15: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks during a celebration of the opening of a new Metro station at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on November 15, 2022. (Photo by Eric Lee for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in Dulles, Virginia in November. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, across town, the company came under harsh criticism from a series of lawmakers.

“The problems at Southwest Airlines over the last several days go beyond weather,” Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said, while announcing that “the Committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers.”

Other Senators chimed in with criticisms of their own from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) saying the delays were a result of “massive mismanagement” to Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) saying the company was “failing consumers.”

At Southwest, thousands more flights have already been canceled for Wednesday and Thursday, with the carrier announcing plans to operate at about one-third of its capacity in the coming days.

“Our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning,” the company said in a statement.

Actions to ‘ensure airlines are held accountable’

“Our Administration is working to ensure airlines are held accountable,” President Biden tweeted Tuesday to add his voice to the chorus of critics and amplify a review that the Transportation Department announced Monday night.

TOPSHOT - US President Joe Biden boards Air Force one as he departs Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware, en route to Washington, DC, on December 16, 2022. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden boards Air Force one on December 16. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden’s administration said that Southwest needs to provide stranded passengers with meal vouchers, refunds, and hotel accommodations when the delays or cancelations “came about as a result of Southwest’s decisions and actions.” Buttigieg is also in touch with union leaders, according to the spokesperson, to ensure that stranded flight attendants and pilots are helped.

The back and forth with Biden and his teams also comes in a year when the president and his aides have often criticized the travel industry for how it treats travelers on issues from cancelations to excessive fees and more.

‘Our heartfelt apologies’

Southwest’s troubles continued Tuesday with thousands of cancelations, according to FlightAware. As of Tuesday evening, 64% of Southwest’s flights were canceled whereas Alaska (ALK), American (AAL), United (UAL), and Delta (DAL) all had cancelation rates under 10%.

“We’ll work to make things right for those we’ve let down,” the company said.

Travelers at Baltimore Washington International airport deal with the impact of Southwest Airlines canceling more than 12,000 flights around the Christmas holiday weekend across the country and in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. December 27, 2022.  REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

Travelers at Baltimore Washington International airport wait for updates on December 27 in the aftermath of Southwest Airlines canceling more than 12,000 flights around the Christmas holiday weekend across the country. (REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy)

The company also announced a new site where customers can try to rebook or request a refund but didn’t address whether it would extend hotel rooms or refunds to every stranded passenger, despite a request for response from Yahoo Finance.

“Our shared goal is to take care of every single Customer with the Hospitality and Heart for which we’re known,” the statement read.

This week’s travel chaos also comes after the Transportation Department proposed new rules this summer that would codify airline passenger protections, including the right to a refund if airlines cancel or significantly change travelers’ flights, if it was prompted by issues under the airlines’ control.

In September, the administration also proposed new rules on airline fees and announced plans to spend infrastructure money upgrading America’s terminals as part of an overall effort to make flying a less painful experience, Secretary Buttigieg told Yahoo Finance at the time.

This post has been updated with additional context.

Ben Werschkul is a Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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