AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Days after the airline industry has mostly recovered from severe weather, the Austin airport floor is still covered in hundreds of stranded bags.
Dozens of passengers scoured the baggage claim level for their bags, most leaving empty-handed. The costs are greater for some than others.
“I ain’t had no clothes in one week,” one woman named Patricia said. “Southwest told me my clothes would be in my destination here. Then when I got here, they told me they were in Baltimore. All my grandkids’ Christmas gifts, everything is in my luggage. It’s just horrible.”
Between the new clothes, Christmas presents, emergency transportation and food Patricia said she has had to buy, she estimates her canceled flight cost her upwards of $500. Southwest offered her a $250 flight voucher.
“For what?” she said. “I ain’t going to fly no more.”
“We decided to make the 16-hour drive home to Austin, and we got home at six a.m. Christmas Day,” said another woman named McKenzie, whose flight from Denver was canceled. Wednesday was her second day in a row searching for their luggage with her five-year-old son, whose car seat is still lost.
Their concerns have prompted state and federal lawmakers to demand accountability from Southwest Airlines, which has canceled almost 10,000 flights just this week.
“It’s been extremely hard on the employees of Southwest Airlines. The company itself is really hurt by this. They are such a pride in North Texas. It’s important to me that they are able to make this right,” said State Senator Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), who represents the district home to Southwest corporate headquarters.
“This is largely the place of federal regulation,” he said. “I am going to be learning more about what the state can do.”
Federal officials like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have raised the possibility of fines and other enforcement mechanisms against Southwest. Almost all aviation oversight powers belong to the federal government rather than the Texas legislature. But Sen. Johnson said Southwest’s failures this week are symptomatic of a much larger Texas problem.
“We see economic pressures, and we see political pressures that make it very difficult to make the kinds of investments and commitments that we need to make in order to accommodate our growing economy,” he said. “In the private sector, there’s so much profit pressure that it’s difficult to make good decisions some of the time.”
Johnson likened Southwest’s widespread cancellations to other system-wide failures that have plagued Texas in recent years — most notably, the February 2021 grid failure that cost hundreds of Texans their lives.
“I think that we as a state, as a people, are going to have to start thinking about these giant systems a little differently,” he said. “We can’t limp along year to year hoping things don’t go wrong because eventually what they do and when they go wrong, they go wrong in a big way.”
It is unclear what specific levers of government Texas would or could deploy in response to Southwest’s failure. Sen. Johnson suggested raising the economic pain of these largescale shortfalls.
“I think we need to give more weight to the cost of big breakdowns. And when you factor that in economically, it’s easier to make the decisions to make big investments earlier, before things go wrong. And I think we need to take that whole attitude towards the way we run our businesses and the way we run our government.”