Southwest Airlines Must Compensate Travelers Due to Massive Flight Cancellations; Say Feds   - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Southwest Airlines Must Compensate Travelers Due to Massive Flight Cancellations; Say Feds  

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Southwest Airlines said it expects to return to normal operations Friday after slashing about two-thirds of its schedule in recent days, including canceling another 2,350 flights Thursday, according to an AP report.

Southwest is struggling to recover after being overwhelmed by a winter storm that left hundreds of pilots and flight attendants stranded out of position to operate flights.

It is likely that far more than 1 million passengers have been affected, the AP reported.  Southwest has canceled more than 13,000 flights since its meltdown began on December 22. Its planes have 143 to 175 seats and were likely nearly fully booked around the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to the AP report.

Other airlines are back to full strength. Delta, American and United together canceled around 30 flights by late morning, according to tracker FlightAware.

Southwest’s cancellations amounted to 58% of its schedule, slightly better than in previous days. The AP reported that the Dallas carrier accounted for more than 95% of all canceled flights in the United States on Thursday.

Because of the inordinate amount of cancellations, Southwest could be slapped with major penalties for ruining Christmas for thousands during the holiday weekend, federal officials warned Wednesday, as was reported by the New York Post.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and congressional leaders have called on the budget airline to issue refunds and pay for expenses after the company grounded more than 14,500 flights since Friday — including more than 2,500 on Wednesday, according to the Post report.

“They need to make sure that these stranded passengers get to where they need to go and that they are provided adequate compensation — not just for the flight itself,” Buttigieg said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday.

The Post reported that Buttigieg described the Southwest travel chaos as unprecedented during his tenure and said the department will “mount an extraordinary effort” to ensure passengers are compensated for their troubles.

Southwest’s customer service plan notes that it will provide vouchers and lodging for delays or cancellations “within our control.”

About the only good news for Southwest passengers was that 98% of flights that took off Thursday managed to land within 15 minutes of schedule, meeting the government’s definition of an on-time arrival, the AP reported.

Southwest has acknowledged that it has inadequate and outdated technology that can leave flight crews out of position when bad weather strikes, the report indicated.

“We will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals, hotel and alternate transportation,” a Southwest spokesperson told The Post on Wednesday.

Thousands of customers have been unable to reach the airline this week, as Southwest’s phone system was overwhelmed, the AP reported.  Pilots and flight attendants also reported being put on hold for hours.

Buttigieg said the airline has pledged to exceed the required level of customer service.

“In order to restore that relationship with their customers, Southwest is going to have to not only make them financially whole, but find a way to really rebuild trust and confidence,” Buttigieg said, as was reported by the Post.  “They pledged to me that they’re going to do that. I want to see exactly what that means.”

The AP reported that Southwest added a page to its website specifically for stranded travelers, and it invited customers to submit receipts for unexpected expenses. The airline said it would consider reimbursing “reasonable” expenses for meals, hotel rooms and alternate transportation incurred between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2. Consumer advocates criticized the use of the word “reasonable” as too vague.

While Southwest will incur a hefty price tag for the wave of flight cancellations, the AP reported that a disruption in service in October 2021 cost it $75 million, the AP reported.  That meltdown was far smaller, resulting in about 2,000 canceled flights over a four-day stretch. Back then, as this week, Southwest’s solution was to cut its schedule to stabilize the operation.

The AP reported that Southwest has been the most profitable U.S. airline so far this year, earning $759 million in net income through September.


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