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Southwest Airlines Forced to Start $90 Million Compensation Program For Delayed/Canceled Flights

Airports + Flying
by Matador Creators Dec 19, 2023

There are few upsides to traveling during the holiday season. Airports are busy, delays are frequent, and it often feels like there are no consequences when airlines treat their passengers like second-class citizens. Well, it appears passengers have some rights after all. The Department of Transportation (DOT) just announced a $140 million civil penalty against Southwest Airlines for violating consumer protection laws during the 2022 Christmas and New Year holiday. The cancellation of 16,900 flights during that period resulted in over two million passengers getting stranded, and now Southwest’s passengers may actually be entitled to restitution.

This penalty, which is the largest the DOT has ever leveled against an airline, is in addition to the over $600 million in refunds and reimbursements DOT has already forced Southwest to provide passengers who faced disruptions due to the operational meltdown. The DOT found that the airline failed to give adequate customer service assistance, prompt flight status notifications, and prompt refunds.

The restitution is all thanks to changes in Southwest’s customer service plan – made at the urging of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg – that entitle passengers to reimbursements for basic expenses if flights are canceled or significantly delayed. That means Southwest must pay over $750 million for last year’s holiday snafu.

That’s good news for Southwest passengers. Southwest is required to provide a total of $90 million in vouchers between April 30, 2023 to April 29, 2027, to passengers subjected to controllable cancellations or delays that resulted in those passengers arriving three or more hours late to their destination.

“Today’s action sets a new precedent and sends a clear message: if airlines fail their passengers, we will use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable,” said Buttigieg in a press release. “Taking care of passengers is not just the right thing to do — it’s required, and this penalty should put all airlines on notice to take every step possible to ensure that a meltdown like this never happens again.”

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