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Editorial: Misbehaving airlines should face consequences for travel chaos

Editorial: Misbehaving airlines should face consequences for travel chaos


Unruly passengers objecting to mask rules and other restrictions aren’t the only ones disrupting flights. Misbehaving airlines are also causing travel chaos. And they, too, ought to face consequences.

Tens of thousands of passengers had their plans upended when American Airlines suddenly canceled more than 2,000 flights recently. The real problem is a staffing shortage, and that’s the airline’s fault. Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines also canceled thousands of flights in recent months.

A canceled flight is often more than an inconvenience. Some stranded passengers miss one-time only events such as graduations, weddings, funerals, birthdays and homecomings.

The airlines say the disruptions reflect difficulties in ramping up staffing to meet a surge in demand as vaccines made flying a safer option. But a staffing shortage isn’t supposed to have occurred. Taxpayers provided more than $50 billion in relief funds to ensure that the airline industry would not cut jobs during COVID shutdowns.

Instead, some airlines let their staffing shrink, leaving them flatfooted as the arrival of COVID vaccines rapidly revived air travel. These airlines even offered early retirements and buyouts and imposed furloughs and layoffs.

These COVID-related hassles come on top of irritations about airlines imposing multiple fees, overbooking and shrinking seat sizes. Yet the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the supposed watchdog, has barely barked.

Today’s commercial flying conditions are not what Congress and former President Jimmy Carter had in mind with the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. The idea was worthwhile and successful, but advocates also thought it would spur competition among airlines that, in turn, would prices and improve service. Instead there was a wave of mergers.

Now these near monopolies seem impervious to consumer complaints and the nation’s need for affordable and predictable air service. It’s time for Congress to look again at how to make the airline industry more responsive to the public its airlines are certified to serve.

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