Southwest Promotes Executives After Historic Meltdown
After canceling nearly 17,000 flights around the Christmas holiday — the worst customer service meltdown in the history of the U.S. airline industry — Southwest announced this week that it is promoting some of its executives, a move that watchdogs called a slap in the face. and travelers affected by the company’s incompetence and greed.
In a press release, Southwest said it is raising five executives in various departments at the company, including controlling network operations and communications. The announcement came just over a week after the Southwest pilots’ union released a scathing letter calling corporate management a “headquarters-centric cult” that has “eroded our company from the inside.”
While Southwest said the new leadership changes “represent the second phase of organizational structure work that began in September 2022,” critics argued that the decision to continue promotions after the holiday debacle shows a total disregard for American customers and regulators. who have been accused of doing too little to crack down on abuses in the industry.
“Southwest felt its executives deserved a promotion after leaving thousands of its customers in the lurch in the middle of the peak travel season of the holiday season,” Liz Zelnick, director of the Economic Security and Corporate Strength program at the Accountable.US. “This is the behavior of a company that has no intention of reversing course from management decisions that seek to enrich shareholders while leaving consumers to hold the bag. We hope Congress will investigate their failures and hold their executives accountable.”
Matt Stoller, director of research at the American Economic Freedom Project, wrote in response to the promotions: “They’re just making fun of Pete Buttigieg. And why wouldn’t they?”
Buttigieg, the head of the US Transportation Department, has faced a growing backlash from airline regulators and members of his own party in recent days for failing to take decisive action in the lead-up to and in the wake of Southwest’s massive cancellations. , which pilots and flight attendants say were fueled by the company’s refusal to invest in technology upgrades that could have helped the airline giant navigate the inclement weather and predictable chaos of holiday travel.
In recent years, as flight crews sought changes to the company’s aging technology, it spent nearly $6 billion to buy back its own stock.
“Pete Buttigieg chose to let almost every domestic airline go without a flight after being caught completely flat-footed earlier this year,” said Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, referring to the holiday-related cancellations. July 4. “Despite rampant cancellations and widespread violation of federal law by giving travel vouchers instead of cash refunds, the only domestic airline to face any regulatory scrutiny was tiny, politically weak Frontier.”
“This is despite the fact that Frontier was responsible for far less industry-wide churn than major players like United or Southwest,” Hauser continued. “Every other US-based airline received a warning and promised to do better in the future. When you don’t enforce the law, you lose credibility as a regulator. Our position is simple: When corporations violate federal law, they must to be investigated and held responsible”.
“When you don’t enforce the law, you lose credibility as a regulator.”
While the Transportation Department has said it is investigating the latest round of mass cancellations and acting on refund complaints from Southwest customers whose travel plans were thrown into chaos, lawmakers and advocates argue that the agency’s actions so far have fallen far short of what is needed. to hold the company accountable and prevent future disasters.
“In light of the sheer scale of Southwest Airlines’ most recent operational failures and the devastating impact these failures and other airline cancellations continue to have on American consumers, we believe much more must be done,” the 26 Democratic lawmakers wrote. in a letter to Buttigieg last week.
“Refunds and other types of compensation policies quickly become meaningless if there is no clear mechanism or platform for passenger redress. Ensuring that passengers and airlines can communicate effectively with each other will allow passengers
to promptly obtain any compensation owed, as well as any other useful information a passenger may need after a canceled or significantly delayed flight,” the lawmakers wrote. “Furthermore, the Department must ensure that airlines aircraft to be able to maintain a reasonable level of operational capabilities. in case of extreme weather or other possible disruption. Of course, not all
interrupts can be controlled. But issuing rules and standards that can help limit or prevent future cancellations and delays arising from these initial outages will ultimately benefit consumers far more than any refund policy.
William J. McGee, a senior fellow for aviation at the American Economic Freedoms Project, wrote in an NBC News article earlier this month that “America’s commercial aviation system is broken, but it is also the only regulatory agency that allowed to supervise him”.
“Consider what we’ve seen from the federal government since Covid hit,” McGee wrote. “For starters, airlines held onto at least $10 billion in unpaid refunds and unused flight credits after the pandemic forced people not to fly in 2020 and beyond. In November, Secretary Pete Buttigieg finally imposed the ‘historic’ penalties . But only Frontier and five small foreign carriers were penalized.”
Then, the first half of 2022 saw an unprecedented number of delayed and canceled flights, more than in all of 2021,” he continued. “Despite warnings from lawmakers and groups like my organization, the American Economic Freedom Project, Buttigieg assured passengers in September that the airlines would address their scheduling problems. Unfortunately, he did not use his authority under the tort rule and Department of Transportation fraud to investigate why tens of thousands of flights were scheduled and then paid for by consumers to be canceled.”
“Worse,” McGee added, “there were no reported penalties for cancellations. This lack of enforcement may have contributed to Southwest’s Christmas meltdown, because it is unlikely that Southwest and other airlines would have stranded so many passengers if they were afraid of the real consequences.”