DENVER (KDVR) — FOX31 talked exclusively with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

The interview covered a lot of ground when it comes to the skies, including your holiday travel.

Buttigieg is cautiously optimistic, giving a reality check that although things won’t be like they were last summer, with cancellations and delays, he said we’re not in the clear just yet.

“So the good news is we’ve seen a lot of improvement compared to this summer. Early this summer, we had extraordinarily high rates of cancellation and delays. Passengers getting stuck happen to millions of Americans, happen to me, more than once,” he explained via Zoom.

He added: “Airlines have taken a lot of steps toward more realistic scheduling, more hiring, other things that we’ve been urging them to do. That’s the good news. The other side of the coin is we’re not out of the woods yet. I’m still seeing a lot of indications that when you have a weather event or a major cause of delay, that’s rippling through the system and the system is not yet fully recovered to be able to absorb them.”

700,000 to get airline refunds: Buttigieg

Meanwhile, The Problem Solvers told you about Frontier Airlines recently reaching an agreement to refund flyers for more than $200 million because of canceled flights or delays during the pandemic. This was part of a historic move from the Department of Transportation, fining multiple airlines for not giving out those refunds in a timely manner.

FOX31 asked Buttigieg about that as well.

“It’s really all about the consumer. What we’re doing is enforcing our Department of Transportation rules that require airlines to pay passengers their money back. If you get a cancellation or a major delay, you’re entitled to a refund,” Buttigieg said.

He continued: “We’ve seen too many airlines either make it too hard, drag their feet, take too long, or in some cases refuse to provide those refunds. That’s where we’ve stepped in with these enforcement actions, including the fines and the penalties. But the point of the fines and the penalties is not to get money into the treasury, it’s to get money back into passenger’s pockets.”

This comes just a year after the biggest single fine against an airline by the department. In that case, it was Air Canada, having to do with refunds. This year, they’ve also issued the largest, total amount of fines in the history of Consumer Protection Program.

“We’re not doing this because we like giving out penalties and fines. We’re doing this to get that money back in passengers’ pockets,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said about 700,000 passengers will be getting refunds.

The secretary also talked about Florida’s impact on airspace and how complicated it is there with high demand, military operations and commercial space launches. said says the military will power down some of its operations going into the holidays to make it easier for those traveling.

Frontier Airlines responds to refunds, fine

FOX31 also reached out to Frontier Airlines following the interview. The airline sent us this statement regarding the fines levied against them and the refund mandates from the Department of Transportation:

“Frontier Airlines has issued over $92 million in refunds and redeemed credits and vouchers to customers who voluntarily cancelled their non-refundable tickets during the pandemic and were not entitled to a refund under U.S. law. In addition, the company provided over $2.7 million in refunds by voluntarily applying a more generous definition of a significant delay than was in effect at the time for customers who booked and purchased their tickets between March 25 and Oct. 27, 2020.  These goodwill refunds of nearly $100 million demonstrate Frontier’s commitment to treating our customers with fairness and flexibility. Under the terms of the Consent Order, Frontier will make a total out-of-pocket payment in the amount of $1 million, having received a $1.2 million goodwill refund credit. “

Frontier Airlines