Jun 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

U.S. weighing penalizing airlines if flight disruptions continue: Buttigieg

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaking in the White House in May 2022.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks in the White House last month. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told the Associated Press in an interview Saturday his department may take enforcement actions against airlines that do not abide by consumer-protection standards.

Driving the news: As air travel has rebounded from lows because of the coronavirus pandemic, widespread flight disruptions caused by airline staffing shortages and weather have upended schedules and left travelers stranded or scrambling.

  • Staffing shortages at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which falls under Buttigieg's purview, have contributed to flight delays, according to AP.

By the numbers: As of Saturday afternoon, more than 2,900 U.S. flights were delayed and 760 were canceled altogether, according to real-time flight tracker FlightAware.

  • The disruptions come on the heels of 8,940 flight delays and 1,470 cancellations on Friday. Most of the delays were weather-related.

Flashback: Many travelers faced similar issues around Memorial Day, with more than 2,800 flights canceled during the holiday weekend, per FlightAware.

  • Airlines blamed bad weather, air traffic control and staffing problems for the disruptions.

What they're saying: Buttigieg's department will wait to see if there are major flight disruptions over the July Fourth holiday weekend and the rest of the summer before deciding whether to step up enforcement against airlines, he told AP.

  • Buttigieg said that airline executives told him that their companies are attempting to hire and train new pilots and other workers to meet demand. They also said they are hiring more customer service representatives to help passengers rebook canceled flights or get refunds for them.

What to watch: The government could levy fines against the airlines, but those have typically been small. Air Canada had to pay a $2 million fine last year because it did not refund passengers quickly enough.

Go deeper: Memorial Day airline hell was a painful preview of summer

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