Members of Congress grilled one of Southwest Airlines’ top executives Thursday after its massive meltdown around the Christmas holiday.


Multiple different issues led to the airline canceling nearly 17,000 flights during the holiday season.

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“Let me be clear…we messed up,” Southwest Airlines Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson said during Thursday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Southwest Airlines says it’s taking responsibility for the chaotic holiday travel season.

Watterson says the airline didn’t have enough equipment to handle the extreme winter weather. He told lawmakers that included materials and locations to deice the planes. Watterson claimed the storm also grounded a quarter of their flight crews.

“At this point, the disruption changed from a weather event that all airlines experienced to a crew event that was unique to us,” Watterson said.

Senators from both parties wanted to know why the company wasn’t better prepared.

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“Did you ever run a full-out scenario where you could anticipate a bad storm, deicing issues,” West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito asked.

“Do you understand the public’s frustration with this,” Washington Democrat Senator Maria Cantwell added.

Watterson responded by claiming Southwest was already addressing those issues.

“We need more infrastructure at airports for deicing. We need more deicing trucks. We need new technology systems with deicing,” Watterson said.

The company’s pilot association says Southwest ignored their warnings about a potential meltdown. Now, they’re urging the airline to listen.

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“Southwest struggles to manage nearly any disruption, regardless of the causes,” Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Capt. Casey Murray testified. “Our recent history and the data shows a pattern of increasingly disruptive operational failures.”

Some airline advocacy groups say they want more support for travelers, including a requirement for airlines to match customers whose flights are canceled with empty seats on other airlines.

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