Southwest Airlines fined record $140 million for 2022 holiday travel flight cancellations

Travelers check in at Southwest Airlines at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Houston. During the 2022 holiday travel season, Southwest Airlines cancelled nearly 17,000 flights stranding millions of passengers from Christmas to New Year. 

Vacationers verify in at Southwest Airways at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, in Houston. Through the 2022 vacation journey season, Southwest Airways cancelled almost 17,000 flights stranding tens of millions of passengers from Christmas to New Yr. 

Jason Fochtman/Employees photographer

Following final yr’s vacation journey fiasco leading to almost 17,000 canceled flights, the Division of Transportation introduced a $140 million civil penalty towards Southwest Airways on Monday.

The penalty units a document as the most important one issued by the DOT— 30 instances bigger than earlier penalties imposed for shopper safety violations.  

“Immediately’s motion units a brand new precedent and sends a transparent message: if airways fail their passengers, we’ll use the total extent of our authority to carry them accountable,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a press launch. “Caring for passengers is not only the precise factor to do— it is required and this penalty ought to put all airways on discover to take each step potential to make sure that a meltdown like this by no means occurs once more.” 


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Funds from the penalty will go in direction of compensating passengers affected by flight cancelations and/or excessive delays brought on by Southwest Airways sooner or later. Passengers will obtain a $75 flight credit score when flights are greater than three hours late. 

“Now we have spent the previous yr acutely targeted on efforts to boost the shopper expertise with vital investments and initiatives that speed up operational resiliency, improve cross-team collaboration and bolster total preparedness for winter operations,” stated Bob Jordan, Southwest Airways President & Chief Government Officer in a press launch. “Our dedication to prospects has been central to our success throughout our 52-year historical past and has helped us turn out to be one of many world’s most admired and trusted airways.” 

As a part of the DOT’s investigation, it discovered Southwest Airways failed to supply sufficient customer support help, failed to supply immediate flight standing notifications and failed to supply immediate refunds “in a immediate and correct method” — infringing upon shopper safety legal guidelines. In accordance with officers, greater than two million passengers ended up stranded from Christmas main into the New Yr.  In whole, DOT ordered Southwest Airways to pay greater than $750 million for what they described because the “vacation meltdown.”  

Between reinforcing airport infrastructure, growing obtainable tools and strengthening its winter preparedness plan, Southwest Airways officers ensured reiterated its steps to stop one other meltdown.  

“Because the disruption, Southwest has taken many steps to spice up Buyer care and operational resiliency, together with operational enhancements which are mirrored within the airline’s Disruption Motion Plan accomplished earlier this yr,” officers stated in an announcement. “All through 2023, together with Thanksgiving and different busy vacation journey intervals, Southwest has delivered robust operational performances as its investments proceed to boost reliability for purchasers and workers.” 


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In accordance with the corporate, the enhancements part of its plan to rework the shopper expertise embody:  

  • Digital bag monitoring to supply prospects real-time info on the journey of checked gadgets  
  • Flight credit that do not expire, permitting prospects to retain their flight credit to make use of towards future journey
  • Enhanced digital self-service capabilities together with the flexibility to request a refund if prospects select to not journey as a consequence of a Southwest-initiated
  • Flight cancellation expanded rebooking choices after flight cancellations  
  • New buyer notifications throughout climate occasions that proactively present rebooking choices

On account of the settlement, the DOT plans to proceed monitoring airways to determine situations of unrealistic scheduling, which is taken into account unfair and misleading apply beneath federal legislation. The Division ensured motion could be taken if it discovered any airways in violation of the buyer safety necessities.  

“Immediately’s announcement is a part of DOT’s ongoing work to carry all airways accountable to their passengers,” stated officers with the DOT in a press launch. “Below the Biden-Harris Administration, the U.S. Division of Transportation has returned a document quantity of over $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements to vacationers, issued the most important ever penalties towards airways for failing passengers, and is advancing the most important enlargement of airline shopper rights in additional than a decade.” 

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