To assist travelers this summer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg claims he is urging airlines to increase the number of customer-service representatives they employ.
The day after meeting with airline executives to question them about widespread flight cancellations, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s trip was canceled, forcing him to drive from Washington to New York.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, Buttigieg said, “That is happening to a lot of folks, and that is exactly why we are paying great attention here to what can be done and how to make sure that the airlines are delivering.”
According to Buttigieg, he is urging the airlines to stress-test their summer itineraries to make sure they can run all of their planned flights with the staff they have on hand, as well as to hire more customer service personnel. That might put pressure on airlines to shorten their summer schedules even more.
Buttigieg stated that his department could pursue legal action against airlines that fall short of the required criteria for consumer protection. He added that he first wants to determine whether there would be significant flight disruptions throughout the Fourth of July holiday weekend and the remainder of the summer.
Fines may be imposed as a result of enforcement activities, however, they are usually little. Last year, Air Canada agreed to pay a $2 million punishment for its tardy refunds.
Airlines executives discussed their efforts to prevent a repetition of the Memorial Day weekend, when over 2,800 flights were canceled, during the virtual conference on Thursday. Buttigieg added, “Now we’ll see how those steps stack up.
Travel has returned. More than 2.4 million travelers went through security checkpoints at American airports on Friday, coming within 12,500 of topping the record set during the epidemic on the Sunday following Thanksgiving last year.
If 1,400 flights hadn’t been canceled by airlines, many of them due to thunderstorms that struck areas of the East Coast, the record would have undoubtedly been broken. According to tracking firm FlightAware, airlines canceled more than 1,700 flights a day earlier.
Flying in the summer is usually subject to unforeseen weather conditions, but as travel surged back from pandemic lows earlier than anticipated, airlines have also noted staffing problems. Airlines are rushing to fill positions left vacant by staff members they encouraged to resign after the pandemic struck by hiring pilots and other staffers.
The Transportation Department does not see any reason why airlines cannot add customer-service personnel right away to assist passengers in rebooking if their flight is canceled, even though it takes months to hire and train a pilot to fulfill federal safety standards.
The administration faces personnel issues.
Flight delays in Florida have been a result of staff shortages at Buttigieg’s department, the Federal Aviation Administration. There will be more workers there, according to the FAA. A roving force of 1,000 screeners has been assembled by the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security, to be sent to airports with excessively long checkpoint lineups.
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