DOT Says Southwest Messed Up Big Time in Holiday Meltdown, Fine Coming

DOT Southwest Holiday Meltdown

DOT Says Southwest Messed Up Big Time

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has notified Southwest Airlines that it had failed customers during last year’s holiday meltdown. The agency determined that Southwest “had failed to provide adequate customer service assistance, prompt flight status notifications, and proper and prompt refunds and that the assessment of a civil penalty is warranted.”

Southwest revealed the news in a regulatory filing Monday, but said that it can’t estimate the cost of a fine and damages from lawsuits.

Last December, a winter storm barreled through the US and disrupted flights all over the country. Although many airlines were able recover relatively quickly, Southwest Airlines didn’t return to normal operations until more than a week later. Crewmembers were left stranded because they were unable to communicate with their dispatchers and schedulers, and the airlines’ legacy technology could not keep up with the rapid changes. The airline’s meltdown led to more than 16,700 flight cancellations and the disruption of 2 million passengers’ flights.

The Dallas-based airline is investing $1.3 billion on technology projects this year, about 25% more than it spent in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

Southwest said it would not comment further as talks with the Transportation Department “are ongoing and part of a process we’re respecting by withholding specific comment until we reach a resolution.” The airline added it has “been discussing widely our multi-faceted effort and significant investment to improve the resiliency of how we prepare and operate in irregular conditions.”

The filing followed Southwest’s report that its profit slid 30% in the July-through-September quarter and it will scale back growth plans early next year.

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