HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Airline travelers have had a rough go of it lately, sparking a renewed push to pass the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating Southwest Airlines after widespread flight cancelations that started with a winter storm and spiraled out of control because of a breakdown with staffing technology.
“They are hitting rock bottom performance levels,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Monday.
Thousands of Southwest flights across the country, including Connecticut and New York, were canceled, leaving holiday travelers stranded.
Charles Miller of California got stuck at Bradley International Airport.
“I was trying to call, couldn’t get through all day,” he told News 8.
Others were stuck at airports in New York.
“My daughter is in New York City all by herself, very sad,” one mother said. “They ruined our Christmas.”
One man had health issues.
“I gotta go home,” he said. “We didn’t bring medication for four or five days.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation said one out of every four flights in America was canceled or delayed in 2022.
Blumenthal said the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights would provide ironclad, enforceable rights for consumers. He introduced a Senate bill in 2021, but it stalled in the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
“If a flight is canceled, money back, compensation, not some voucher,” he said. “Cashback in consumer pockets.”
Blumenthal recently spoke with Buttigieg, who is ready to issue penalty orders against airlines that fail customers.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters, “We will penalize Southwest, as we would any airline, to the tune, potentially, of tens of thousands of dollars per violation if they fail to meet what is required of them to take care of passengers.”
The Democratic senator said years of mergers and acquisitions mean fewer airlines nationally.
“I think the whole airline industry is due for a radical makeover using antitrust laws and consumer protection statutes,” explained Blumenthal.
Last summer, Southwest pilots went on strike. Staffing issues remain, and an out-of-date technology system is also being blamed for the recent crisis.
“Clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances,” Bob Jordan, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, said.
Southwest added a page to its website specifically for travelers impacted by the latest debacle and invited customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursing “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms, and alternate transportation incurred between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2.
Blumenthal is hopeful the bill will pass, adding there is nothing Republican or Democrat about a canceled flight or a stranded passenger sleeping overnight on an airport floor.
He expects to put legislation before his fellow lawmakers in Washington as early as Tuesday.