Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg slammed over 4 July travel chaos – New Zealand Herald


Between 1 July and 4 July, 17,769 flights were delayed and more than 1,554 were cancelled in the US. Photo / 123rf

The United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been criticised by leading members of his own party for failing to prevent ‘airmageddon’ flight chaos over the Fourth of July weekend.

Between Friday 1 July and Monday 4 July 17,769 flights were delayed and more than 1,554 were cancelled according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.

Considering the fact that more flights have been delayed this year compared to any other year in the past decade, it’s no surprise Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has faced criticism.

Last week Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khana of California sent letters urging Buttigieg to act before the holiday weekend.

Sanders proposed airlines be forced to refund passengers for flights if they were delayed more than an hour and impose fines of up to $88,399 per passenger for flights delayed more than two hours. Sanders also urged Buttigieg to fine airlines that could not ‘properly staff’ scheduled flights.

While the punishment sounds severe, most passengers would not have been refunded nor airlines fined as the average delay time was 49 minutes during the weekend.

Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has been accused of taking a passive approach to national air travel dissruptions. Photo / AP
Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has been accused of taking a passive approach to national air travel dissruptions. Photo / AP

As the anticipated disasters unfolded at airports around the country on Friday, Sanders followed up his formal email with a Tweet calling Buttigieg out.

“The airlines got $54 billion in taxpayer money. They said thanks by jacking up ticket prices 45 per cent and stranding passengers at crowded airports. Enough,” Sanders wrote.

“It’s time for the Transportation Department to impose massive fines on poor-performing airlines and full refunds for long delays.”

Representative Khanna, also wrote to Buttigieg and said the Department’s response had “been lacking the urgency, imagination, and boldness to meet the moment and needs of the American people”.

Speaking to The American Prospect, Khanna said: “Buttigieg needs to make clear that he has the authority to go after the airlines for unfair and deceptive practices. He needs to lay out a framework for what the consequences will be for canceled flights, understaffing, and misrepresentations to passengers.”

Buttigieg had warned airlines to prepare for the surge in demand over the weekend but appeared to take a passive approach when confronted with the chaos that ensued.

Instead, the Transport Secretary encouraged Americans to claim compensation for cancelled flights through conventional processes, as he had done.

“Airlines offer miles as compensation for some travel issues, and you can often negotiate on this,” Buttigieg tweeted. After a Friday flight was cancelled and he was offered US$30, Buttigieg claimed he was able to get back US$ $112.07 ($180).

“Sometimes an airline will offer you points or miles as compensation, but you are entitled to a cash refund when your flight is canceled.”

Unsurprisingly, many were dissatisfied with the Transport Secretary’s tips and tricks and instead wanted him to take meaningful action.

One Twitter user named Brian Jackson replied: “You know [as] the Secretary of Transportation you could maybe I don’t know fix the root cause of the delays so no one would need a refund and would actually get to their destination?”

Another user named The Dude, agreed: “Hey Pete … maybe, as Secretary of Transportation, you should be meeting with FAA, major airlines and other key folk involved – slamming your fist on the table and demanding they work out these issues and a plan to address the problems … not update us on frequent flyer miles.”

Twitter user ‘Pantazopopulos’ took a slightly more cutting tone, writing: “How bout you actually find out the reasons the airlines are having issues and see if there is a way to help, I mean, if you’re not busy, since you are Transportation Secretary.”


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