US Department of Transportation investigating Southwest vacation travel disaster

US Department of Transportation investigating Southwest vacation travel disaster



CNN

The United States Department of Transportation said it is in the early stages of an investigation into the Southwest Airlines holiday travel crisis in December.

The probe includes an examination to see if Southwest is scheduling more flights than it can handle.

“DOT is in the early stages of an intensive and comprehensive investigation into the Southwest Airlines vacation dispute that has left millions stranded,” a department spokesman said.

The airline, America’s largest domestic carrier, canceled more than 16,700 flights between December 21 and 29. Southwest estimates the cost of those cancellations to be between $725 million and $825 million. A little more than half of the cost – between $400 million and $425 million – will come from lost ticket revenue that will be refunded to customers.

Much of the rest is to compensate customers for buying flights on other airlines, and for a 25,000 point bonus in its frequent flyer program. Various Southwest employees will receive additional “thank you” pay for working through the crisis.

“DOT has made it clear to Southwest that it must provide timely refunds and refunds and Southwest will be held accountable if it fails to do so. DOT is also investigating whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic flight scheduling that is considered an unfair and deceptive practice under federal law. DOT will use the full extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to ensure that consumers are protected and this process will continue to evolve as the Department learns more,” the spokesperson said.

Southwest said it is cooperating with the investigation.

“Our holiday flight schedule has been thoughtfully designed and offered to our customers with the support of a solid plan to operate it, and plenty of staff,” the airline’s statement said. “Our systems and processes have come under stress as we work to recover from multiple days of flight cancellations across 50 airports following an unprecedented storm. We are very focused on learning from this event, on mitigating the risk of a recurrence, and on delivering the excellent hospitality and service that our customers expect from us.”

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg previously said the department will use “the full extent of its investigative and enforcement powers” if the airline does not continue to reimburse travelers for their extra costs.

– CNN’s Chris Isidore contributed to this report

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