Was ‘Mayor Pete’ asleep at the switch?

By Jim Geraghty, National Review

Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 30, 2022

As bad as the weather was in Buffalo and other parts of the Northeast, what’s bedeviled Southwest Airlines this month is an epic systemic failure — but that won’t stop a debate about how much blame should befall Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg. And, come to think of it, from the backlogs at West Coast ports and other supply-chain issues, to the narrowly averted freight-rail strike, to the persistent difficulties in getting air travel back to something resembling the pre-pandemic normal . . . America’s transportation system really is going through a rough patch, isn’t it?

Southwest Is Now the Most Troubled West This Side of Kanye

No matter how the final days of this year are going for you, you’re doing better than Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan.

Every airline has faced challenges since winter weather began disrupting travel on December 22. A blizzard hit Buffalo, N.Y., with unprecedented force, snarling carriers’ flight plans all over the place. But the northern states experience blizzards, high winds, and bad weather every winter, and this week, Southwest stands out for the sheer scale of its flight cancellations. As of this writing, shortly before 8 a.m. on Thursday, 2,446 flights into, out of, or across the U.S. have been canceled today, and 2,356 of them are Southwest flights, according to FlightAware. The next-highest share of the cancellations belongs to Frontier, which accounts for 15 of the cancelled flights.

Southwest isn’t currently collapsing because of weather; its meltdown stems from a massive technology failure. Specifically, just about the entire crew-scheduling system appears to have failed on an epic scale.

If this debacle sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Southwest and its passengers endured a similar experience in October 2021. At the time, some conservatives, including Senator Ted Cruz, contended that Southwest’s cancellations and a short-lived air-traffic-control staffing shortage announced by the Federal Aviation Administration reflected the consequences of Covid-19 vaccine requirements for travelers. But it didn’t make much sense that Southwest would be so much more severely affected by the vaccine requirements than other airlines, and the Southwest Pilots Association union said the problems weren’t the result of any work slowdown or sickout to protest the vaccine requirements.

The pilot’s union contends that the current meltdown is a nearly inevitable consequence of relying on antiquated and buggy scheduling systems.

Now, the question that will be most interesting to those who follow politics is: How much of this is Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg’s fault? And it’s not just Republicans asking this question. David Sirota, a former speechwriter for Bernie Sanders, argues that Buttigieg was asleep at the switch . . . not all that unlike the time the ports on the West Coast got snarled and the nation’s freight-rail system came to the brink of halting:

Southwest Airlines stranding thousands of Americans during the holiday season is not some unexpected crisis nor the normal consequence of inclement weather — and federal officials are not powerless bystanders. Before the debacle, attorneys general from both parties were sounding alarms about regulators’ lax oversight of the airline industry, imploring them and congressional lawmakers to crack down.

The warnings came just before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on national television insisting travel would improve by the holidays, and before Southwest executives — flush with cash from a government bailout — announced new dividend payouts to shareholders, while paying themselves millions of dollars.

Four months before Southwest’s mass cancellation of flights, 38 state attorneys general wrote to congressional leaders declaring that Buttigieg’s agency “failed to respond and to provide appropriate recourse” to thousands of consumer complaints about airlines customer service.

Back in September, I noted that Buttigieg played a surprisingly minor role in the Biden administration’s efforts to avert the threat of a freight-rail strike, taking a back seat to Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. Looking over Buttigieg’s schedule and public events, it seemed like Buttigieg was treating his job like a de facto presidential campaign. (In mid September, the Hill wrote, “Some Democrats are speculating about what a second Buttigieg run could look like.”)

One of Buttigieg’s campaign-esque stops last fall was on James Corden’s Late Late Show, where he pledged to the host, “I think it’s going to get better by the holidays. We’re really pressing the airlines to deliver better service. So many people have been delayed, been canceled – it’s happened to me! Several times, this summer! And the fact is, they need to be ready to service the tickets they’re selling.”

As Bush said to “Brownie,” “Heck of a job!”

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal argues that Buttigieg’s current proposals amount to “shooting the wounded”:

Buttigieg’s new rule won’t reduce turbulence. Some airlines already lure customers with the promise of refunds for delays under three hours. Refund policies are built into ticket prices, allowing passengers to choose their level of protection. Stripping airlines of their ability to compete on refunds and other things won’t help customers.

Requiring carriers to add unnecessary employees is inefficient, a sop to unions, and a recipe for higher fares. Imposing fines for non-weather-related delays or cancellations will put new pressure on airlines to cut other corners. The last thing the nation needs is 50 new state airline regulators.

Keep in mind, a lot of progressives absolutely loathe “Mayor Pete” for a variety of reasons. Some of this is down to the fact that Buttigieg used to work for McKinsey, which many progressives perceive as the devil’s consulting firm. (They might not be that far off.) Some of it goes back to Buttigieg’s rivalries with other, more progressive candidates in the 2020 Democratic primaries. And some of it reflects the fact that some progressives look at Buttigieg and have the same questions that some conservatives do: How did this guy, who was mayor of the 299th-largest city in the United States, suddenly become an A-list political figure? As Representative Bobby Rush asked in a debate with then-state legislator Barack Obama, when both men were competing in the Democratic primary for Rush’s seat in 2000: “Just what’s he done? I mean, what’s he done?”

Some leftists may be eager to scapegoat Buttigieg for anything going wrong in the transportation sector. Then again, Buttigieg makes it easy for his critics, doing things like bypassing the messes at the nation’s airports by flying on private jets so frequently.

As I wrote back in September, U.S. secretaries of transportation are a bit like brake lines, offensive lines, and power lines — you only pay much attention to them when they don’t work.

Matt Stoller accurately observes, “If you want to know Biden’s problem, consider that

Pete Buttigieg is an unmitigated catastrophe at the Department of Transportation. Yet there’s no criticism at all of his tenure on the Hill or within partisan media. The Dem political machine has no feedback loop to reality. . . . Buttigieg wasn’t qualified to run DOT, but he could nonetheless be learning how to manage transportation systems. He’s not, because the elite Dem world coddles him.”

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One response to “Was ‘Mayor Pete’ asleep at the switch?”

  1. Mary Ameigh Avatar
    Mary Ameigh

    Limbaugh talked of symbolism over substance. Mayor Pete exemplifies. His qualifications? Gay veteran with a husband and he goes to church. That’s it. Dems pander to various percieved aggrieved while promoting WOKE agenda. I say go back to sleep Rip Van Winkle.

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