Southwest penalized $140 million for Christmas 2022 meltdown that stranded 2 million

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Airline violated federal law by not notifying, helping and refunding travelers

Southwest Airlines will pay $140 million because it violated federal law in multiple ways during its meltdown last year that stranded more than 2 million travelers over Christmas and into the New Year, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Monday.

The settlement stems from DOT findings that Southwest violated consumer protection laws by:

  • Failing to provide adequate customer service help to hundreds of thousands of consumers through its call center when flights were disrupted, which is considered an unfair and deceptive practice under federal law. 
  • Failing to provide prompt refunds to thousands of customers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed, also an unfair and deceptive practice under federal law.
  • Failing to provide prompt flight status information to more than 1 million travelers, even though Southwest knew their flights were canceled, diverted or notably delayed. This too is considered an unfair and deceptive practice.

Southwest has already paid more than $600 million in refunds and reimbursements to customers whose flights were disrupted during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday.

The $140 million penalty will include $35 million to the U.S. Treasury, payable over the next two years and $72 million for future passenger compensation plus additional money for vouchers.

In response, Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog at U.S. Public Interest Research Group said:

“Last year’s disaster ruined holiday celebrations for millions of families, many who spent Christmas weekend sleeping on the floor of airport terminals. The experience was even more gut-wrenching because it was the first time many families traveled since before the COVID pandemic.

“What Southwest did – and didn’t do – was inexcusable. We hope this penalty sends a strong message to all of the airlines that they can’t play with people’s lives like this. Travelers aren’t just seat numbers. Christmas 2022 is a holiday that millions will never forget, for all of the wrong reasons. 

“While this enforcement is good news, Southwest wasn’t the only airline to fail travelers last holiday season, and at many other times during the last few years. We know that DOT is investigating multiple airlines for ‘unrealistic scheduling,’ when the airlines schedule flights, knowing they’re not likely to complete them. We’re still waiting for action on this. And many U.S. airlines fail to provide timely refunds for canceled flights, yet only one U.S. airline, Frontier, has been penalized so far. As we found in our new Plane Truth analysis released last week, while cancellations are down over last year, airlines still torment travelers with delays, lack of refunds, lost luggage and involuntary bumping. The DOT and Congress need to do more to protect consumers.”

To reach Teresa Murray: 216-202-0496 or [email protected]