Even Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, experiences trouble with his travels.
These disruptions can range from minor annoyances to significant system failures, as the holiday season meltdown at Southwest Airlines or the January system outage at the Federal Aviation Administration that grounded all aircraft within the United States. In an effort to enhance air travel, Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation have focused on a variety of concerns. Just this week, they unveiled a dashboard showing airline policy for choosing family seats.
We talked to Buttigieg about further measures the DOT is doing, such as regulation reforms and airport upgrades, to keep airlines accountable and expedite travel. For the sake of clarity, this interview has been trimmed and shortened.
What can consumers anticipate?
What was your experience flying on commercial airlines?
However, as you might expect, I travel by air quite frequently. I believe we always have a chance to mystery shop how the airlines are performing when I’m pushing them to lift the standard on customer service since I travel at least once a week, generally on any number of the big airlines. Outside of extreme weather occurrences, there has been an overall improvement in cancellations and delays. Nonetheless, there is still work to be done to enhance that customer service encounter.
Will the DOT ever formally define “substantial delays”?
Yes, that is something we are working on right now, and hearings will be held (this month) to allow passengers and others to share their opinions. We believe that we can already provide customers with refunds and benefits thanks to a relatively clear approach, but we do believe that this has to be more precisely regulated. We are now developing a procedure to try to get that correct.
What other projects is the DOT engaged in to prevent airlines from charging families to seat together in addition to the dashboard?
The fact remains that you shouldn’t have to pay to have your children’s seats close to you on a flight. Although it seems like plain logic to the majority of us, none of the big airlines have officially adopted that practise up until this point. This is why we requested that they put this in writing and make it part of their official policy; if they do, we will have enforceable guarantees that will allow us to take appropriate action in the event that the policy is violated.
Three of the top 10 airlines have so far answered and agreed to that so far. We are requesting that all airlines follow suit.
We’re drafting the regulation concurrently because we want to ensure that it is an industry-wide standard that is enforceable. But, we’re taking a “both/and” approach because it takes a very long time to develop and implement laws and rules due to the way the law is written, and passengers shouldn’t have to wait for that. My advice to the airlines is to comply with our demands, but don’t force us to finish the regulation before we act ethically. Act morally at this moment. And we’ll continue to enforce it.
We’ll continue to make rules, but for now, simply act morally.
How does the DOT hold Southwest Airlines responsible?
What has the DOT done to hold Southwest accountable following the Southwest fiasco?
Well, certain details are off-limits at the moment because the inquiry is still ongoing. But what I will say is that we are keeping track of the complaints that our department is receiving, and when it’s something that we can’t tell if the airline got first, we send it to the airline and tell them, “You’ve got to take care of this customer who came and told us that they didn’t get their reimbursement, their refund, or whatever it is,” or something similar.
Also, we’re looking at the possibility of unfair scheduling. When an airline intentionally plans flights that they won’t be able to serve, that is when it happens. Again, that investigation must finish its work, but we’ll utilise all of our available tools to hold Southwest accountable.
Southwest announced that it is changing its operational procedures. How are they collaborating with the DOT?
Actually, it is their duty to complete this. We can make them answerable for the result. Thus, we won’t enter and instruct them on what programme to use. We’ll let them know that they need to provide better customer service.
And this is a problem that is unique to the Southwest. The system was seriously damaged by the winter storm that arrived around Christmas, although every other airline recovered rather swiftly. Southwest moved against that direction. We see ourselves more as a watchdog than as the airline’s management team. We must make sure that airline is properly run.
Are outdated aircraft technologies updated?
It appears that the backend technical systems are having trouble keeping up with Southwest and the FAANotice to Air Missions issue. What can the DOT do to improve their dependability?
Particularly with regard to the FAA, we are in the midst of multiyear, multimillion dollar, if not multibillion dollar modernization procedures.
The FAA faces a particular issue because its infrastructure was piecemeal constructed over many years. It’s crucial to protect all that has contributed to the incredibly safe airspace that American travellers enjoy while also making the adjustments that are unquestionably required to maintain the system and get it ready for the future. Therefore, there is no such thing as downtime. You know, you can’t just unplug the system and turn it off for a few days while you work on fixing it for the future.
In 2023, the FAA will need to be reauthorized. What are the FAA funding priorities for the DOT?
Absolutely. I’ll speak in generalities. The FAA reauthorization is an opportunity to examine every aspect of our aviation policy and ensure that we have the funding to sustain it. You’ll hear more from us soon. That includes everything from technical advancements for the FAA to faster modernization and air traffic controllers.
I’ll now offer you an illustration. The NOTAM system, which gave us so much grief a few weeks ago, is currently undergoing a modernization project that began in 2019 and was not expected to be finished until 2025. Naturally, I’m interested in accelerating it. It will require resources to do it.
We can also obtain some of these policy upgrades outside the purview of the FAA, and we’ve been collaborating with lawmakers that want more stringent requirements for customer care as well. Upon the release of the president’s budget, you’ll see a lot more on this. That will give you an idea of some of our top priorities, and I do believe that this year offers a real opportunity to significantly alter aviation finance and policy.