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Pete Buttigieg “has your back” during this busy holiday travel season

Secretary Pete Buttigieg
Secretary Pete Buttigieg Photo: Shutterstock

As holiday travel kicked into high gear this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg assured Americans that his department “has your back.”

In a video message posted to X on Thursday, the out secretary touted improvements to the country’s aviation system since last year’s disastrous holiday travel season. As The Hill noted, more Americans are expected to travel this year than have since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Buttigieg said that flight cancellations have actually been lower this year than they were prior to 2020.

Buttigieg also reassured viewers that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has “secured enforceable commitments from the ten largest airlines to cover expenses for things like rebooking, meals” and other expenses related to flight delays and cancellations and noted that travelers are entitled to a full cash refund if their flights are canceled for any reason.

“Our work as a watchdog has helped get over $2.5 billion returned from airlines to travelers,” Buttigieg said. He also noted the department’s efforts to get all airlines to offer fee-free family seating.

He directed travelers to the DOT’s new online dashboard at, which provides information on the commitments the department has gotten airlines to make to protect passengers’ rights.

Earlier this week, the DOT announced a $140 million civil penalty against Southwest Airlines for “numerous violations of consumer protection laws during and after the operational failures that canceled 16,900 flights and stranded over two million passengers” last Christmas. In a press release, the department touted the penalty as 30 times larger than any previously levied by the DOT for consumer protection violations.

“Today’s action sets a new precedent and sends a clear message: if airlines fail their passengers, we will use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable,” said Buttigieg. “Taking care of passengers is not just the right thing to do — it’s required, and this penalty should put all airlines on notice to take every step possible to ensure that a meltdown like this never happens again.”

According to the December 18 release, the “DOT has issued the highest amount in fines ever against airlines for failing to refund customers promptly and for unlawfully keeping passengers on the tarmac for hours” under Buttigieg.

The department previously secured more than $600 million in refunds and reimbursements from Southwest for passengers whose travel plans were disrupted last year. Those refunds came in large part due to significant changes the airline made to its customer service plan at Buttigieg’s urging in September 2022.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden trumpeted the Southwest penalty in a post on X. “Taxpayers kept airlines afloat during COVID-19,” he wrote. “They should get a better deal.”

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