January 12, 2023

Senator Warren Joins Senators Markey and Blumenthal in Calling for Answers from Southwest Airlines for Holiday Meltdown, and Billions Spent on Dividends and Stock Buybacks

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and other lawmakers in sending a letter to Southwest Airlines CEO Robert E. Jordan seeking answers for its mass flight cancellations in the final week of December, which impacted millions of passengers and workers. 

Between December 27 and December 29, Southwest canceled more than 7,500 flights in the wake of winter storm Elliott, nearly seven times as many flights as all other airlines combined. The senators asked Jordan to explain the causes of this holiday debacle, including specific questions around its outdated scheduling software, personnel decisions, ticket refund policies, passenger baggage decisions, and shareholder compensation.

“The mass flight cancellations at Southwest Airlines (“Southwest”) during the last week of December ruined the holidays for tens of thousands of travelers, stranding them at gates without their bags and forcing them to miss celebrations with families and friends,” wrote the senators. “Although winter storm Elliott disrupted flights across the country, every other airline operating in the United States managed to return to a regular flight schedule shortly thereafter — except Southwest. Southwest must take all necessary steps to ensure that this debacle never happens again.”

The Senators asked a series of questions about why Southwest was continuing to use outdated software and scheduling systems.  The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association had warned that such a debacle was inevitable unless Southwest invested in new scheduling systems, but instead it chose to pay billions of dollars in stock buybacks and shareholder dividends in the last decade, and had just announced the resumption of dividend payments – the first airline to do so.

 “Now that Southwest has returned to a regular travel schedule and has finally begun returning bags to customers, the airline must examine the causes of this disaster and ensure it never happens again, ” the senators continued, “Southwest has long known that its software was outdated…Instead of making those investments, Southwest distributed over $1.8 billion in dividends to shareholders, and bought back over $11 billion in shares between 2011 and 2020.”

The letter was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M).

The senators called on Southwest to respond to a series of questions no later than February 2, 2023.