Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said his department will be looking into the Southwest Airlines scheduling system after thousands of canceled flights enraged passengers across the U.S.
Southwest canceled 70% of its flight schedule Monday and Tuesday as it struggles to recover after extreme winter weather and staffing problems.
“This has clearly crossed the line from what’s an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility,” Buttigieg said Tuesday in an interview on "NBC Nightly News."
Southwest canceled more than 2,800 flights Monday — the day after Christmas — and around 2,600 Tuesday, according to tracking website FlightAware.
The airline has said it plans to only operate around one-third of its schedule, or roughly 1,500 flights, for several days as it tries to move crews into position.
“I’m truly sorry,” Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said in a video statement Tuesday. He said there is a “massive effort to stabilize the airline” underway.
Jordan said Southwest’s network is complex and depends on aircraft and flight crews staying in motion, and that cities with large numbers of flights simultaneously froze.
Southwest had to reduce its flights in order to catch up, he said.
Other airlines appear to have recovered from the severe winter weather, which saw 200 million people under winter alerts or warnings going into the holiday weekend.
Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said Southwest had not adequately prepared flights for the storm. Large swaths of Southwest crews also remain in contract negotiations with the carrier.
Jordan said there will be changes to the tools it uses to recover from disruptions.
“Clearly, we need to double-down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances, so that we never again face what’s happening right now,” he said.
Buttigieg said Southwest has pledged to take care of impacted customers, and that the Transportation Department will be holding the airline accountable for that.
"At a minimum, there need to be cash refunds for the canceled flights, and they need to be taking care of passengers where they got stuck — with meals, with hotels compensation," Buttigieg said.
Another 2,478 Southwest flights scheduled for Wednesday have also been cancelled, according to FlightAware.