Buttigieg Wags Finger at Southwest for Flight Cancellations - But Twitter User Documents How He's Part of the Problem


The holiday canon is filled with people experiencing lousy Christmases. Ebenezer Scrooge. George Bailey. Clark Griswold. And now, Bob Jordan.

Unlike the others, Jordan is 1) a real person and 2) unlikely to have a happy ending to his story. He’s the CEO of Southwest Airlines, a carrier currently in the midst of a holiday meltdown.

While other carriers were hit with cancellations and delays thanks to a Christmas storm that blanketed the nation, Southwest recovered slower than most — and now, Jordan and his airline are going to get a visit from the Ghost of Department of Transportation Present.

As per CBS News: “By Wednesday evening, about 86 percent of all canceled flights in the U.S. were from Southwest, which scrubbed more than 2,500 flights Wednesday, according to tracking service Flight Aware. On Tuesday, a day after most U.S. airlines had recovered from the storm, Southwest had called off about 2,600 more flights. Those flights accounted for more than 80 percent of the 3,000 trips that got canceled nationwide Tuesday, according to FlightAware.”

What’s behind the issues? According to CNN, two of the hardest-hit areas — Chicago and Denver — are also major hubs for Southwest. Furthermore, CNN reported, this was all occurring “as the so-called tripledemic surged across America, leaving people and their families sick with Covid, the flu and RSV.”

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“Many airlines still lack sufficient staff to recover when events like bad weather cause delays or flight crews max out the hours they’re allowed to work under federal safety regulations,” CNN noted. (Keep that bit in mind. It’ll come in handy later.)

Well, the Ghost of Department of Transportation Present — otherwise known as Pete Buttigieg, the man who was catapulted from the mayor of the 335th-most populous city in America to secretary of Transportation because apparently over-performing in a couple of presidential primaries makes you an expert on infrastructure — was Not Happy About This.

“USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service. The Department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan,” the Department of Transportation tweeted Monday.

Then, on Tuesday: “This afternoon, @SecretaryPete spoke with union leaders and the CEO of Southwest Airlines to convey the Department’s expectation that Southwest meet its obligations to passengers and workers and take steps to prevent a situation like this from happening again.”

“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from what is an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility,” Buttigieg said, according to CBS News.

Hoo boy. If Mayor Pete ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Now, to be fair, there are a whole lot of moving pieces that caused the Southwest meltdown — a “tripledemic,” if you will, of employee absences, hubs getting hit hard by the storm, and a host of internal issues involving the airline’s scheduling system and quick turnaround times.

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However, if you think the Wizard of South Bend is going to be the one to solve these problems, think again. As one Twitter user noted, Buttigieg hasn’t been busy solving the problem, he’s been busy being the problem.

John Hasson, a conservative Twitter personality, noted a slow-motion tragedy unfolding in three acts (or headlines) regarding Buttigieg’s priorities in re: the airline industry:

July 8, KABC-TV in Los Angeles: “Pete Buttigieg pledges to diversify aviation workforce during visit to Compton flying school.”

“We’re glad to see demand has come roaring back, but now airlines are struggling to keep up and meet that demand,” Buttigieg told the station during a visit to a Compton, California, flying school.

His answer: Diversity! Because, sure. Why not?

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“Any time you have some Americans who have been excluded from opportunity, it’s important to make sure there is an inclusive future. It’s also important because the entire country is worse off, a field like aviation is worse off if you have people who could have been great pilots, could have been great aerospace engineers, but never even knew that was an option for them,” Buttigieg said.

But do you know what Americans should be excluded from an opportunity in the aviation industry? Older pilots! July 12, Fox Business: “Biden admin says 66 too old for commercial pilots, as president nears 80.”

As Americans are living and working longer and as commercial airliners have become more automated, the mandatory Federal Aviation Administration retirement age of 65 seems antiquated — particularly in the face of a pilot shortage. Thus, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were urging the retirement age be bumped up to 67. Buttigieg was having none of it.

The Transportation secretary told Fox News the retirement age was “there for a reason,” adding he was “not going to be on board with anything that compromises safety.”

“The answer is not to keep the baby boomer generation in the cockpit indefinitely,” Buttigieg said.

“The answer is to make sure we have as many and as good pilots ready to take their place, to have a stronger pipeline,” he added. “We’re backing that up with FAA programs that support high school and college curriculum to get into aviation, and of course, ultimately, it’ll be for the airlines and those employers to hire and retain excellent talent.”

Good luck with that. Sept. 13, Fortune: “The airline pilot shortage is worse than you think.”

The article dealt with a study by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, which found “the airline industry has about 8,000 fewer pilots than it needs — an 11 percent shortage. By 2032, however, it expects that shortage to balloon to nearly 80,000 people ‘absent a downturn in future demand and/or strenuous efforts by the industry to bolster the supply of pilots.’

“During the pandemic, many pilots opted to take buyouts or early retirement. And commercial airline pilots tend to be a bit older than other professions, so the mandatory retirement age of 65 is a looming threat,” Fortune’s Chris Morris wrote.

“Also, fewer ex-military pilots are transitioning to commercial carriers, due to compensation issues (though some major carriers are offering huge financial incentives these days). And the training process for a commercial pilot is an extensive one that scares off many candidates.”

Huh. It’s almost like embracing diversity while shoving the baby boomer generation out of the cockpit wasn’t going to solve the problem.

Not that Buttigieg wouldn’t keep holding airlines accountable for the delays and cancellations, however; in the selfsame interview where he told Fox News he was refusing to consider raising the retirement age for pilots, he pledged to continue cracking down on carriers that couldn’t meet traveler demand with the staff they had managed to retain post-pandemic.

“We have just concluded another 10 investigations on airlines on [cancellation] issues and have launched another ten or so that we’re going to pursue to make sure that the consumers and passengers are protected,” Buttigieg said.

During the summer travel season, however, Buttigieg didn’t have a specific whipping boy for understaffed airlines trying to readjust to post-pandemic travel patterns. Nor was he doing anything to actively aid those struggling carriers. He was ignoring a glaring pilot shortage staring him right in the face, spending the time spewing platitudes about diversity instead.

This Christmas, fate gave Buttigieg a suitable scapegoat as a big fat present: Bob Jordan and his airline, Southwest, which Buttigieg and the DOT are going to make poster children out of. Corporate greed! Fares too high! Salaries too low! Global warming! Not enough BIPOC pilots!

Perhaps Mayor Pete couldn’t have circumvented this meltdown. However, as Mr. Hasson astutely pointed out, he spent 2022 assiduously avoiding any major moves to alleviate the airline cancellation crisis, other than promising that beatings would continue until morale (and on-time performance) improved. Buttigieg will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks heaping blame upon Southwest, no doubt — and absolutely none on reflecting about how he’s part of the problem.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture