Washington (February 9, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a consumer advocate and member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today questioned Southwest COO Andrew Watterson at a Committee hearing, demanding that the airline be held accountable for leaving passengers stranded at the gate during the midst of peak holiday travel in December, for sky-high delays and cancellations, and for finally doing right by customers by providing a cash hardship payment to the hundreds of thousands of affected passengers. As Senator Markey said, for passengers who understandably refuse to fly Southwest again, Southwest’s offer of frequent flyer points is “useless” and is an “empty gesture” for consumers.
In his questioning of COO Watterson, Senator Markey pointed out that during the first 11 months of 2022, over 25 percent of Southwest flights either arrived late or were cancelled, and that for years Southwest pilots who have sounded the alarm about operational issues have been ignored. According to Department of Transportation data, during the first 11 months of the year, airline-caused cancellations have increased from 18,489 in 2016 to 53,178 in 2022, while airline-caused delays have increased from 16,357,624 minutes in 2016 to 32,914,248 minutes in 2022.
At the hearing, Senator Markey said to COO Watterson, “Because you did not listen to those warnings, catastrophic conditions were created for passengers by the hundreds of thousands all across our country. That is absolutely unacceptable. You were warned that mismanagement absolutely led to real pain, real harm for families. In response to what happened, Senator Blumenthal and I called on Southwest to provide a cash hardship payment beyond refunds and reimbursements to help compensate for passengers suffering.”
Watch the full exchange with Senator Markey and Southwest COO Watterson: HERE
Senator Markey is the author of the Forbidding Airlines from Imposing Ridiculous (FAIR) Fees Act, bicameral legislation that would prohibit airlines from charging unreasonable fees – including bag, seating, cancellation, and change fees – that are not proportional to the costs of the service actually provided. The bill also directs the Department of Transportation to review any other fees imposed by airlines and to ensure that children can sit with their family on flights at no additional charge. In 2019, U.S. domestic airlines collected $5.8 billion in baggage and $2.8 billion in ticket reservation fees alone. Additionally, Senator Markey is a lead cosponsor of Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)’s the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, comprehensive legislation to expand protections for air travelers. Among a host of key consumer protections, the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights would ensure that airlines provide passengers with fair compensation, refunds, and recourse in the event of airline-caused flight delays and cancellations, require airlines to pay at least $1,350 to passengers denied boarding as a result of an oversold flight, and mandate airlines to immediately refund bag fees for damaged or lost bags.