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American And Southwest Airlines CEOs Explain Recent Flight Delays, Cancellations During Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) - American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly explained the recent operational hiccups their airlines experienced.

They both said violent attacks against airline employees have made it more challenging for the airlines to recover from serious disruptions to their flight schedules.

During a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 15, Parker told Senators the heavy winds at DFW International Airport at the end of the October left planes and employees in the wrong places, as the airline had to cancel about 2,000 flights over a four-day period.

"It was a seriously disruptive event that would have resulted in hundreds of cancellations on its own and the fact that it took two days longer."

He said that it took two days longer than it would have previously because the airline had difficulty in attracting employees to sign up to work additional trips, in part because of unruly passengers who are accused of assaulting flight attendants and others.

"In this environment, unfortunately though it's difficult to pick-up extra time is what we're finding, which is what we need in that time. That was the case and it was largely related to what Ms. Nelson said about some of what's going on in the aircraft and it's related to COVID."

Kelly said his airline has faced similar issues.

(L-R) American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby testify before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 15, 2021. (credit: Chip Somodeville/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the Columbus Day holiday weekend in October, the airline cancelled more than two thousand flights. "We just need to make sure that we don't over schedule the airline relative to the resources that we have. We made a number of adjustments in that regard much for the same reasons as Doug was describing."

Both CEO's said their on-time performance and flight completion rates have improved dramatically since then and were a major success during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

Still, at least one business traveler we spoke with, Chidi Ukadike said flying these days is challenging.

"It's definitely been more of a hassle than past times, pre-COVID. Pre-COVID, you could kind of show-up to the airport a little bit time to go and you're still going to make your flight. Now, you've got to make sure you're there."

Senators asked both executives about providing refunds to customers when flights are cancelled.

Parker said last year the airline provided more than three billion dollars in refunds.

Kelly said last year, the airline's refunds were double their normal levels.

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