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Southwest faces Senate hearing over holiday meltdown

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John and Lori Ingoldsby, who drove to Denver after the first leg of their flight on Southwest Airlines was canceled, wait for a flight to finish their trip at Denver International Airport on December 28, 2022 in Denver, Colorado.

Michael Ciaglo | Getty Images

Southwest Airlines‘ chief operating officer, Andrew Watterson, will face questions from a Senate panel next Thursday about the carrier’s holiday meltdown that stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers.

Southwest said the hearing date overlapped with “a previous commitment” for CEO Bob Jordan.

Jordan, who has been CEO for a year, has vowed to win back travelers’ trust after the debacle, which led to an $800 million-pretax hit last quarter and pushed it into a loss.

Watterson plans to “use the opportunity to explain how we’ve taken actions to make things right for our Customers since Southwest’s late December disruption, as well as what we’re doing to mitigate the risk of it happening again,” the airline said in a statement.

The incident has drawn increased scrutiny from Washington and capped a year of on-and-off disruptions in air travel, due to bad weather, staffing and technology issues.

The carrier canceled more than 16,700 flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31 as crew scheduling software was unable to keep up with numerous flight changes in the wake severe winter weather.

The Senate Commerce Committee hearing will also include testimony from Casey Murray, president of the Southwest pilots’ labor union; Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president of legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, an industry group that represents the country’s largest airlines; Paul Hudson, president of consumer rights group Flyers’ Rights; and Clifford Winston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee chair, had previously said she planned to hold a hearing on flight disruptions following Southwest’s holiday travel chaos.

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