Southwest Takes Big Hit From DOT for 2022 Holiday Fiasco

Agency levies $140M fine; airline says it's 'grateful to have reached a consumer-friendly settlement'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2023 6:29 AM CST
Southwest Takes Big Hit From DOT for 2022 Holiday Fiasco
A traveler walks through the Southwest ticketing counter area at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on April 18.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

If you were caught up in Southwest's holiday chaos last year and found yourself at any point muttering, "Someone's got to pay for this," your wish has been granted. The Department of Transportation on Monday announced it's hitting the airline with a $140 million fine, one of the largest civil sanctions it has ever levied, reports CNN Business. The DOT noted Southwest has already paid out more than $600 million to compensate passengers, but also that the fine was issued "for numerous violations of consumer protection laws during and after the operational failures," such as poor communication with passengers and not getting refunds out to them quickly enough.

Factor in lost revenue and other costs, and Southwest says it lost nearly $915 million after taxes over the 10-day fiasco, which led to almost 17,000 canceled flights and 2 million affected customers. It will pay $35 million to the US government, while most of the rest of the fine will be set aside in a fund to compensate future Southwest passengers. "This penalty should put all airlines on notice to take every step possible to ensure that a meltdown like this never happens again," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, per the AP.

Southwest, for its part, says it has "learned from the event," and that it was "grateful to have reached a consumer-friendly settlement." Its CEO, Bob Jordan, also put out a statement noting the airline had made "significant investments" to improve operations and "bolster overall preparedness for winter operations," per the New York Times. Last year's mass cancellation occurred after winter storms hit the airline's hubs in Denver and Chicago, setting off a chain of scheduling issues that Southwest's system couldn't adequately handle. Customers who tried to reach the airline complained of busy signals or being trapped on hold for hours, with some complaining they received no direct notifications from Southwest about what was happening. (More Southwest Airlines stories.)

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