On Thursday, Southwest cancelled 20 inbound and outbound flights at Portland International Airport.
While the airline initially blamed the cancellations on weather, KOIN 6 News spoke to Southwest employees and union leaders, who said outdated technology systems played the biggest role.
In an update posted on Southwest Airlines’ website on Thursday, the company said, “we have much work ahead of us, including investing in new solutions to manage wide-scale disruptions.”
During an October appearance on the Late Late Show, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg discussed holding airlines accountable.
“So many people have been delayed and canceled, it’s happened to me several times this summer and the fact is they need to be ready to service the tickets they’re selling,” Buttigieg said. “I think it’s going to get better by the holidays. We’re really pressing the airlines to deliver better service.”
KOIN 6 News found out that on Aug. 31, four months before Southwest’s cancellation debacle, 38 state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders asserting that the Department of Transportation failed to hold airlines accountable, after thousands of customer complaints over the last few years.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson both signed the letter.
A second letter, also signed by the Oregon and Washington attorney’s general, sent on Dec. 16, thanked Secretary Buttigieg for some of the work addressing the issues, but said the department should implement more changes.
KOIN 6 News reached out to both Rosenblum and Ferguson. Rosenblum’s office told KOIN 6 News:
“Federal law places central responsibility for addressing violations of airline consumer protection with the United States Department of Transportation. In fact, state laws could be preempted by federal laws in this space.
Oregon and other states have been urging lawmakers for years to pass legislation that would allow state attorneys general to enforce state and federal airline consumer protections or, at a minimum, shift enforcement concerns to an agency that focuses on consumer protection like the US Department of Justice of the or the Federal Trade Commission because of ineffective responses to consumer complaints over multiple administrations.
Despite these limitations we are monitoring this issue closely for complaints and will be following up with our state AG colleagues and the DOT Secretary regarding the current consumer travel disaster with Southwest Airlines passengers. We encourage affected travelers to contact our consumer complaint line at OregonConsumer.gov.”
On Thursday, Secretary Buttigieg released a letter he sent to the Southwest CEO.
In the letter, the secretary said in part, “the level of disruption Southwest customers have experienced over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year is unacceptable. I want to reiterate what you have heard me say often: Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket that they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably.”
Southwest Airlines told KOIN 6 News. “Our Teams are working around-the-clock to reunite Customers and their luggage as quickly as possible. For Customers who have not yet received their luggage, they can visit Southwest.com/baginfo for additional info and steps they can take to assist us with reuniting them and their luggage.”