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Biden administration threatens airline over cancellations – Reuters


While the US president blamed Southwest Airlines for the disruptions, critics say his policy has caused a shortage of pilots

US President Joe Biden has threatened to detain the airlines “beholden” on a series of delayed and canceled flights, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg targeting Southwest Airlines in particular. However, the Biden administration has been accused of contributing to the problem.

With more than half of the continental United States affected by a severe winter cyclone, at least 3,100 flights were canceled nationwide on Sunday, and another 6,800 were delayed. Delays and cancellations still numbered in the thousands on Monday, but on Wednesday one airline in particular was still struggling to resume normal service: Southwest, a low-cost carrier.

According to FlightAware, a flight tracking website, some 2,509 South West flights, or 62% of the airline’s scheduled service, were canceled on Wednesday afternoon. The airline has canceled more than 14,500 flights since Friday.

“We’re past the point where they could say it’s a weather-related issue,” Buttigieg told ABC News. “So what this indicates is a failure in the system, and they need to make sure that those stranded passengers get to where they need to go and that they receive adequate compensation,” he continued, adding that in doing so “is the responsibility of the airlines.”

The Department of Transportation said on Tuesday it would review whether the flurry of cancellations violated Southwest’s customer service plan, while President Joe Biden said its administration “works to ensure airlines are held accountable.”

However, Southwest has been struggling with a pilot shortage for over a year, with some staff refusing to work due to a Covid-19 vaccine mandate imposed in September 2021. The mandate was introduced by Southwest itself. even, citing a controversial directive from the Biden administration. The South West Pilots Union has fiercely opposed the mandate and opposed the airline’s recent efforts to hire foreign pilots to make up for the shortfall.

Across the industry, pilot unions have warned the Biden administration that vaccination mandates will lead to “massive dismissals of unvaccinated pilots”. While it’s unclear how many pilots quit or retired early before Biden’s vaccine directive was halted by the Supreme Court earlier this year, a study in August found the airline industry American was facing a shortfall of 8,000 pilots in 2022, in part because of early retirements. .

Meanwhile, Buttigieg resisted pressure to raise the retirement age for pilots to 67, saying in July that the United States could not “Keep the baby boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely.”

In a video message posted on Tuesday, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan said he was “optimistic” regular service will resume next week.

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