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Flight canceled? Pete Buttigieg is telling airlines to step up their game

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on April 28 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on April 28 in Washington, DC.

If you're among the travelers who have had their flights delayed or canceled in recent weeks, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg knows your pain, because his own flight scheduled for Friday was canceled.

He got an alert on his phone Friday morning about the flight, after having just met virtually with the nation's airline CEOs about their chronic operational problems Thursday night.

"I thought, this is pretty on the nose," Buttigieg told NPR. "It illustrates what millions of passengers are are concerned about right now."

Buttigieg's was one of about 1,400 flights U.S. flights that were canceled Friday, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. That's in addition to more than 1,700 flights canceled on Thursday.

Airlines have been struggling to meet a huge surge in air travel demand this summer. Staffing shortages, especially among pilots, has left many airlines with little wiggle room when problems arise, especially bad weather.

But in his meeting with the airline CEO's, Buttigieg says he told them they've "got to make sure that first of all their schedules reflect the realities of some of the staffing issues that they've encountered."

"These airlines have gotten a lot of public support to try to keep the system resilient," Buttigieg told NPR, referring to the $54 billion in pandemic relief. "And now we're looking to them to make sure that their operations are reliable, and importantly that when there is a disruption or delay ... they get somebody on the phone and get that customer service to help work through it."

Buttigieg said he pressed the airline executives to detail what kinds of actions they're taking to ensure operations run smoothly heading into the busy Fourth of July holiday.

"I received a lot of assurances about the steps that they're taking, and I know that this is being taken very seriously when it comes to all of the measures airlines can take," Buttigieg said. "On the other hand, I'm in a car right now instead of on a plane, because we weren't able to get a flight as planned, so these disruptions continue to be a concern."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.