Senator Ted Cruz’s series of excuses as to why he fled his home state in the midst of a winter storm crisis for a vacation in Cancun continued to fall apart as United Airlines confirmed it was investigating how his flight itinerary had been leaked to the press.
And, in addition to the pending investigation, it was reported by Axios on Sunday that Mr Cruz had invited his longtime friend and college roommate to the family vacation, throwing another wrench into his story.
On Monday, the airline said it was probing how the media was tipped off about the Republican senator’s original plan to travel home after a long weekend getaway — and subsequent flight change, which came after intense backlash over his reported travels.
Tens of thousands of its employees maintain access to flight and customer data, United Airlines told Politico, which noted how such leaks remain rare in the airline industry. An executive for United told the news outlet: “It’s against United’s policies to share personal information about our customers and we are investigating this incident.”
The senator’s travel arrangements also became public information when he was placed on an upgrade standby list on Thursday, a day after he was seen with his wife in a Houston airport headed to Mexico for their vacation, as millions of Texans remained without power and basic necessities due to the storm. Those upgrade standby lists were available publicly online.
Mr Cruz had originally booked his return flight for Saturday, but the travel information leaked to reporter Edward Russell reportedly indicated the itinerary had been rebooked at about 6am on Thursday last week, as news broke of the senator’s travels.
Lawmakers and critics on both sides of the political aisle condemned the senator for fleeing Texas as the unprecedented winter storm spurred rolling blackouts and sent then state into a water and energy crisis. On Thursday, as calls for Mr Cruz to resign grew, he told media outlets the trip was planned at the request of his young daughters.
“It was obviously a mistake, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it,” Mr Cruz said.
He had originally made it appear as though he was only visiting for the day to send his kids and wife off with friends to Cancun, where they were staying at the Ritz Carlton.
“Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” the senator said in an initial statement. “My staff and I are in constant communication with state and local leaders to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas.”
He added: “I didn’t want all the screaming and yelling about this trip to distract even one moment from the real issues that I think Texans care about, which is keeping all of our families safe.”
But those claims were found to be essentially false, as it became clear he was planning to stay in Mexico until Saturday with his friends and family. Axios cited an aide to the senator who said he extended the invitation to his Princeton and Harvard Law roommate, David Panton, after the family scheduled the trip last Tuesday.
As Mr Panton remained in Mexico, Mr Cruz was forced to return home, where he took on community service and charity work that was widely criticized as a staged photo-op amid the increasing backlash over his travels.
On Monday, Politico reported United was considering a range of options depending on the results of its investigation, with an executive for the airline telling the news outlet that nothing was “off the table.”
At least 58 people have died in Texas since the series of winter storms and freezing temperatures sent the state into an Arctic chill, according to numerous reports. Emergency responders are still working to uncover the full impact caused by the winter storms, which analysts say could have lasting detrimental impacts to underserved and low-income communities throughout the state.