‘The Saddest Thing’: Ex-Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao Dives Into Southwest Airlines Disaster


Nicole Silverio Media Reporter
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Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao addressed the mass cancellations of Southwest Airlines flights during a Thursday appearance on “CNN This Morning.”

Southwest Airlines canceled 2,361 flights on Thursday, accounting for 58% of all flight cancellations, according to FlightAware. The airline cited “extreme winter weather” for the catastrophe, though others have blamed its alleged problems with technology and staffing.

Chao, who served under former President Donald Trump, told CNN that the company’s operations have deteriorated in recent years and that fixing them will be a gradual process.

“What a nightmare, what a complete mess,” Chao said. “They obviously would wish that this would never have happened, as everyone would. We’ve got passengers now who’ve had their holidays ruined, they’re still stranded out there, they can’t find their luggage. It is a complete nightmare. It’s a perfect storm of all the things that have been going on with the company.”

“But the saddest thing is, this company used to be a paragon in the airline industry,” she continued. “They had the best computer reservation system, they were trying to set up a personal relationship with the passenger, bypassing all these other intermediary reservation sites. They used to have the best labor relations with their pilots and their flight attendants.”

She explained that the company needs to review and update its operations in order to avoid repeating its mistakes. She also pointed out that the company has a new management team in place and ongoing labor negotiations with employees. Southwest CEO Bob Jordan took the company’s helm on Feb. 1, 2022. (RELATED: Southwest Airlines Cancels Over 1,000 Flights Sunday) 

“They’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do,” Chao said. “And they’re gonna be under the scrutiny of regulators, of the administration, they’ve got a lot on their plate,” she said.

Southwest Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green issued a second apology to passengers in a Thursday statement and introduced the option for customers to retrieve their luggage at no cost and submit a refund request on the website for any canceled flight or other travel expenses. Chao said the luggage retrieval policy is the “minimum,” but not enough.

“They need to be reuniting passengers with their luggage. Because what the problem, as we all know, is: they knew where the airplanes were, they sometimes knew where the cruise were but they just could not combine the two and match them up, and that’s a real problem,” she said. “And now, with so many — luggage is strewn around airports throughout the country. It’s a massive undertaking for them.”

She further recommended that Southwest Airlines passengers keep track of their expenses and consider other airlines.

Jordan apologized Tuesday for the frustration customers are experiencing and vowed to put together “all of the pieces” to solve the problem.