WASHINGTON, D.C. –In his opening statement at today’s full committee hearing titled, “Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protection,” Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Biden administration efforts to micromanage airline fares and routes would result in higher overall fares, fewer routes, and leave consumers worse off. Sen. Cruz’s full remarks are included below.
“Thank you, Madam Chair.
“And welcome to each of the witnesses at this hearing.
“A few moments ago, I referenced the bipartisan and pro-jobs legislation that this committee will be moving forward over the next two years. Right at the top of that list is going to be reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. It is a real opportunity for this committee to focus on aviation safety and also, innovation and ensuring that we have a competitive aviation sector that gives consumers what they want, which is low prices and the ability to get where they want to go for work or for play, inexpensively and conveniently.
“Safety – quite rightly – is the top priority of the FAA. We should not be compromising on safety. With too many recent near misses, we have to consider how to keep our airspace safe and efficient.
“Just this past weekend in Austin, Texas, there was a near disaster that was averted, thanks to the quick reaction of the pilots. But, it could have been a horrific day had those two planes collided on that runway in Austin.
“And it is my hope that we use the reauthorization opportunity to push the FAA safety and technology into the 21st century, to protect competition, and to resist the temptation to get into the business of regulating prices, which will only make air travel unaffordable.
“We all know why we’re here today, which is the middle of the holiday travel rush, tens of thousands of families including many Texans, missed Christmases at home, missed weddings, medical procedures, and more.
“Due initially to an unavoidable weather event, but prolonged for days because of the very serious failures at Southwest Airlines.
“Now, I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines. I spend a lot of time flying Southwest. In fact, I jokingly refer to Southwest as the company plane. It feels like I’m on a Southwest plane once or twice or more a week. And I think Southwest – most days – does a fantastic job. I think Southwest employees consistently greet you with a smile and a laugh. Southwest flight attendants will sing over the intercom. Southwest has done an amazing job inculcating customer service throughout a very large institution. All of those are commendable.
“But when all was said and done, over the Christmas holidays Southwest canceled over 16,000 flights. We’ll hear more of an explanation today on what happened.
"Many people – understandably – were deeply frustrated about not being able to get to where they wanted to go, not being able to be with their family. I had multiple conversations with senior leadership at Southwest. I’m confident they understand it was an epic screw-up and that they are committed to doing everything possible to prevent its recurrence.
“The airline has already paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in refunds, free future flights, and reimbursements for stranded travelers’ out-of-pocket expenses. The airline’s working hard to win back travelers’ trust.
“What I hope to hear today are the specific concrete steps taken by Southwest management to ensure that a similar operations meltdown never happens again.
“Now, as frustrating as those several days were, the question of whether Southwest has sufficiently made things right will ultimately be answered by the flying public, it will be answered by customers choosing whether or not to book a flight on Southwest. Because Southwest was issuing refunds and returning baggage, while they were doing so, some Democrats on this committee were proposing the government step with overly complex anti-competitive and frankly unnecessary regulation that would collectively have the result of making flying unaffordable for many Americans.
“One of the great changes in our lifetime to commercial aviation is the prices of flights have gone way down so that more and more Americans can afford to travel to see a loved one or to travel to go on vacation with the kids. That’s valuable and instead of rushing to regulate prices and how many drinks coupons you get, the Biden Department of Transportation should instead let the flying public vote with their feet.
“As a customer, if I’m not confident of the airline’s ability to get me from point A to point B on time, I’ll choose a different airline.
“Southwest knows this and it’s how they have earned so many customers over and over again. And the Biden Department of Transportation doesn’t seem to have quite the same faith in consumers.
“Last month, the Department of Transportation announced that it is investigating whether Southwest engaged in ‘unrealistic’ scheduling for the holiday season.
“This provision of law permits the Department of Transportation decide if a singular route is chronically delayed, which means it is delayed by more than 30 minutes more than 50% of the time. Never one to let long-standing and well-reasoned precedent stand in the way, the Department of Transportation now plans to investigate the sensibility of the entire schedule.
“Armchair quarterbacking the scheduling operations of an entire industry, that’s just foolish. Regulatory overreach as egregious as that would undermine decades of progress in air travel, harming the very consumers that the DOT claims it’s trying to protect. To avoid arbitrary fines, airlines would reduce service to pad their schedules. A world in which the Department of Transportation can deem an entire airline schedule ‘unrealistic’ is a world with fewer flights to smaller airports in Texas and Montana and Nevada and Arizona… and less flexibility and competition for airlines and ultimately, higher prices.
“Notably absent from today’s meeting is Secretary Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation. Just a few weeks ago, the FAA had its own epic screwup with the meltdown of the NOTAM system. Under Secretary Buttigieg’s watch, the FAA issued the first nationwide ground stop since 9/11, leading to thousands of canceled flights.
“Now, the Department of Transportation didn’t give any mea culpa to impacted travelers.
“The Biden DOT didn’t issue refunds, it didn’t issue reimbursements, it just screwed up their flights and then proceeded to say, ‘we want to be in charge of how the airlines behave,’ even though the FAA has been modernizing their NOTAM system since 2012 and Congress has fully funded the NOTAM budget, the FAA predicts they won’t finish the modernization until 2030. We need to be defending consumers.”
Watch Sen. Cruz’s full remarks here.