ICYMI: Secretary Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Whitaker Give Update Ahead of Potentially Record-Breaking Thanksgiving Travel Season

USDOT
4 min readNov 21, 2023

With storm systems moving throughout country this week, officials urge travelers to plan ahead and bookmark flightrights.gov

Secretary Buttigieg with FAA Administrator speaking at holiday presser
U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Whitaker at holiday news conference

Washington, DC — Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker hosted a news conference at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters on Monday to preview holiday travel numbers and potential weather disruptions, share proactive steps DOT and FAA have taken over the past year to improve air travel operations, and provide an update on DOT’s historic expansion of passenger rights under the Biden-Harris Administration. They also reminded the public to stay updated on conditions by checking @FAANews.

View a full recording of the news conference here.

Read a factsheet on DOT and FAA’s efforts to improve air travel here.

See coverage of the press conference and Thanksgiving travel below:

The Points Guy: Secretary Pete Buttigieg warns of disrupted holiday travel as the agency pressures airlines to perform

“We want everyone to be prepared for changes due to weather,” Buttigieg said during a press conference Monday at the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Travelers should check with their airline directly for the most up-to-date information about their flights, including any delays and cancellations.”

Bloomberg: Buttigieg Warns of ‘Busiest’ Holiday Air Travel, Bad Weather

“There is some bad weather expected that could affect Thanksgiving travel,” Buttigieg told reporters Monday. “While we can’t control the weather, we will also be using every tool at our disposal to keep cancellations and delays as low as possible.”

Washington Post: At FAA command center, round-the-clock work to keep holiday flights on track

Buttigieg said drivers should check road conditions ahead of time, while those planning to fly should check with airlines before leaving for the airport. “While we don’t control the weather, we’re doing everything in our power to keep flights safe and keep cancellations and delays low this Thanksgiving,” he said. “We want the airspace to operate as efficiently as possible. But our first mission is always safety.”

Enforcing Passenger Protections

The Hill: Since President Biden took office, the Transportation Department has helped to get airlines into over $2.5 billion in refunds, Buttigieg said. “If an airline lets its passengers down, we are here to hold that airline accountable,” he added.

The Points Guy: Now, going into a Thanksgiving travel period that’s expected to break records, Buttigieg said the DOT will be more proactive not only in enforcing existing rules but also in making sure passengers know exactly what their rights are in the event of flight disruptions. “We are taking a lot of action to enforce the rules we do have,” Buttigieg said. “If your flight gets canceled or delayed for any significant reason … you are entitled to a full cash refund” if you do not choose to rebook.

NewsNation: “Since President Biden took office, we have helped get airlines to issue over $2.5 billion in refunds,” Buttigieg said. Passengers can go to flightrights.gov to see the kinds of accommodations and compensation they are eligible for.

Improving FAA Operations

Associated Press: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during a news conference Monday that the government has tried to better prepare for holiday travel over the last year by hiring more air traffic controllers, opening new air routes along the East Coast and providing grants to airports for snowplows and deicing equipment. But he warned travelers to check road conditions and flight times before leaving home. “Mother Nature, of course, is the X factor in all of this,” he said.

The Messenger: To address the record high number and reduce delays, Whitaker explained the FAA and the Department of Transportation will open new routes, which he called the holiday airspace release program — “This is the restricted airspace off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico that the military releases to the FAA for commercial plane use,” Whitaker explained.

Bloomberg: To reduce delays during holiday travel, the FAA will use restricted airspace off the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico that the military releases to the agency for commercial planes to use, the agency said in a fact sheet Monday. The agency also coordinated with the space industry to ensure no launches are scheduled around Thanksgiving travel. When there is weather congestion, the FAA said it will work to lower delays by allowing commercial planes to leave before private jets.

Flight Cancellations Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

Fox Business: “Winter weather may challenge airlines in the next few weeks, but so far, 2023 has seen the lowest cancellation rate in the last five years at just 1.3%. It’s much lower than last year,” the transportation secretary added. “It’s lower even than before the pandemic, which translates to millions more people getting to home or getting to work or getting to their loved ones as expected.”

NPR: The annual rush of holiday travelers will test a U.S. aviation system that is straining to keep up with demand. But federal regulators say the system is resilient and ready. “This year, we are seeing more people flying than ever with fewer cancellations than we have seen in years,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at a press conference on Monday.

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