U.S. transport chief says he'll be watching airline performance over July 4 weekend

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday said he would be paying close attention to airline performance during the July 4 weekend after a large number of flight cancellations over the last holiday weekend.

Airlines canceled more than 2,700 flights over the Memorial Day holiday, a harbinger of a difficult summer for travelers amid record demand and a dearth of airline workers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buttigieg, speaking at an airline industry meeting, urged airlines to make sure that schedules were realistic and that they had enough customer service people available to handle the inevitable problems. "You have to be prepared to support the tickets that you sell," he said.

Buttigieg indicated that airlines had told him that they were working to address issues.

"We will use whatever authorities are available to us to make sure the customer is having a good experience. Our hope is before resorting to measures like that the problem can be solved on the front end," Buttigieg added in comments before the Aero Club in Washington, D.C.

Complaints about airlines were up even before the Memorial Day weekend. The Transportation Department said in mid-June that it had received 5,079 complaints about airline service in April, up more than 320% over the 1,205 complaints received in April 2019.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Leslie Adler)