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What can airline travelers expect during the busy summer travel season?
Hopefully, not a repeat of the holiday travel season, says Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
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Thanksgiving 2022 through New Year’s Day 2023 was nothing short of a nightmare for airlines and passengers alike. A winter storm paralyzed the country, canceling and delaying almost 10,000 flights on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. In addition, there was not enough personnel to meet the increased passenger loads in the aftermath of the pandemic, and coupled with the storms, air travel was grounded.
In an exclusive Zoom interview with AARP, Buttigieg says the airlines better be ready for the summer travel crush.
“The bottom line is any time an airline is accepting passenger’s money in exchange for a ticket, they have to be ready to back that ticket up and service the ticket that they are selling,” Buttigieg says. “That means having every part of their system ready to take care of that passenger: to have adequate staffing, good equipment and realistic schedules to back up that flight.”
Southwest Airlines was criticized for not having adequate staffing and for using an archaic reservation system during the 2022 holiday season. Between Dec. 20 and Dec. 29, 2022, more than 16,700 Southwest flights were canceled, stranding 2 million travelers.
Reached for a comment about Southwest Airlines’ preparedness for the summer travel season, spokesperson Chris Perry referenced the airline’s travel disruption action plan.
“We’ve been very transparent about our response to December’s operational disruption, providing a press release outlining the highlights of our tactical action plan, as well as creating a customer-facing micro site that explains in further detail the work that was already underway and also planned to bolster our operations,” Perry says.
American Airlines, which canceled more than 450 flights shortly before Christmas, claimed that they handled the winter storm and the ensuing logjam of luggage and stranded passengers and crew efficiently, and that they’re prepared for the summer crush.
“We work very closely with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and DOT and remain in constant communication about peak travel season,” says Ethan Klapper, a spokesperson for American Airlines.
When asked what American was doing to ensure smooth traveling this summer, Klapper pointed to a podcast produced internally for American Airlines employees, where Julie Rath, senior vice president of airport operations, boasted about the airline’s response to pre-Christmas travel snarls.