Airline CEOs face Senate panel over flight cancellations after taking $54 billion in taxpayer aid

Airline executives will face questions from a Senate panel on Wednesday about flight disruptions and staffing shortfalls despite the $54 billion in taxpayer aid they took to help cover labor costs during the Covid pandemic slump in air travel.

The CEOs of American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, and Delta‘s chief of operations will say that the aid helped them survive the crisis and that they’re now ramping up hiring, according to written testimony for the hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Committee members are likely to ask airlines how prepared they are for the coming months and about pending refunds to customers, which has been a major complaint from travelers.

“While we have seen travel stabilize across the U.S., the Omicron variant of COVID has demonstrated the ongoing volatility of the pandemic,” Delta’s chief of operations, John Laughter, said in written testimony.

U.S. airlines lost a record $35 billion last year but executives say the Payroll Support Program, which prohibited them from laying off workers, was a bridge to get them to the point when air travel demand started to recover in earnest.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say the program saved the airline industry, which Congress and the administration recognized as critical infrastructure that is as essential to the economy as it is unique,” American’s CEO, Doug Parker, wrote in his testimony.

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