A Southwest Airlines executive apologized for the company's holiday season meltdown in front of a panel of senators on Thursday.
The airline company canceled nearly 17,000 flights and stranded more than two million customers between December 21 and December 31 following a winter storm, far more than any other airline. The Senate Commerce Committee questioned executives in a hearing that focused on those disruptions.
"Let me be clear, we messed up," Southwest Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson told senators. "I want to sincerely and humbly apologize to those impacted by the disruption,"
"In hindsight, we did not have enough winter operational resiliency," Watterson explained.
The Southwest executive assured the committee that the company has been working to improve its systems.
"We are doing a system-wide review of our preparedness for winter operations and will implement any measures necessary to mitigate the risk of an event like this occurring in the future," Watterson said.
The company has budgeted $1.3 billion for 2023 investments, upgrades, and maintenance of their IT systems.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey, unsatisfied with the executive's explanation, demanded the airline company give a "cash hardship payment" to those affected.
Some Republicans, however, were more sympathetic with the airline company.
"I've had multiple conversations with senior leadership at Southwest. I'm confident they understand it was an epic screw-up and that they are committed to doing everything possible to prevent its recurrence," Sen.Ted Cruz of Texas said.
Watterson testified the airline had reimbursed 273,406 customers, and that every impacted customer had been emailed flyer points, along with an apology.
But, the airline company would not pay customers directly for their inconvenience unless it was "reimbursement of a flight they took in the disruption," Watterson said.
The U.S. Transportation Department is also investigating Southwest for its flight scheduling throughout the disruption.