Southwest Airlines hired a lawmaker-turned-lobbyist amid investigations into the carrier’s catastrophic system meltdown over the holidays.
Southwest contracted with former Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), a for-hire lobbyist who chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee during his time in Congress, according to a congressional filing.
The airline is dispatching Costello to lobby on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization package, which lawmakers plan to pass this year.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees FAA funding, has promised to investigate the Southwest meltdown and examine “how to strengthen consumer protections and airline operations” during hearings on the five-year FAA funding package.
Airlines see the FAA reauthorization package as an opportunity to provide more funding for the agency, which suffered its own system meltdown earlier this month that grounded all U.S. flights for several hours. But the process could also lead to new, tougher rules on the industry.
Southwest canceled nearly 17,000 flights over the winter holidays after its scheduling systems went haywire. The disruptions impacted millions of travelers and left many stranded, prompting widespread outrage from customers and lawmakers.
The Transportation Department is investigating the incident and hasn’t ruled out hitting the airline with hefty fines. The meltdown has already cost Southwest $800 million in refunds, reimbursements, additional wages and other expenses.
Of the big four U.S. airlines, Southwest has the smallest D.C. lobbying team. Southwest spent $1.1 million on lobbying last year, compared to $4.9 million for American Airlines, the top spender in the industry. Costello is Southwest’s first outside hire since 2018.