U.S. Transportation Secretary Tells Southwest Airlines to Get its House in Order

Pete Buttiegieg has set some expectations for  Southwest Airlines in the aftermath of its holiday meltdown.
Pete Buttiegieg has set some expectations for Southwest Airlines in the aftermath of its holiday meltdown. Screenshot

As expected, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg had some words of wisdom and exasperation for Southwest Airlines in a letter that went to CEO Robert Jordan today — the same day Southwest announced it was resuming normal operations this Friday. .

Speaking on behalf of the American people  — particularly those thousands whose holiday travel plans turned into ordeals of unimagined proportions — Buttigieg outlined clearly what he expects Southwest to begin do with reimbursements and other compensation after what happened with the "severe flight disruptions" caused by Southwest's operations when it cancelled so many flights.

Some highlights of the points he made:

Getting Passengers to their Destination

Southwest has stated that it will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for alternate transportation, such as other airline tickets, Amtrak, or rental cars, for those impacted by a flight cancellation or significant flight delay between December 24, 2022, and January 2, 2023. It would be an unfair and deceptive practice not to fulfill this commitment to passengers. The Department will use the fullest extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to adhere to the promises made to reimburse passengers for costs incurred for alternate transportation.

Providing Meals, Hotels and Ground Transportation to and from Hotels

Southwest has committed to providing meals when a controllable cancellation or delay results in passengers waiting for 3 hours or more for a new flight. This includes all passengers traveling between December 24th and January 2nd who experienced a cancellation or significant delay. In addition, Southwest has promised to provide hotel accommodations and ground transportation to and from hotels for any passenger affected by a controllable overnight delay or cancellation. The Department will take action to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to fulfill commitments that the airline has made in its customer service plans for controllable delays and cancellations.

Refunding Passengers

Under the law, Southwest must provide prompt refunds when a carrier cancels a passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight, regardless of the reason, unless the passenger accepts rebooking. This means Southwest must provide refunds within seven business days if a passenger paid by credit card, and within 20 days if a passenger paid by cash, check, or other means. The Department will use the full extent of its investigation and enforcement authority to ensure Southwest complies with its refund obligations.

Reuniting with Baggage

Southwest communicated to the Department that all baggage has been scanned and that there will be greater transparency for customers about where their bags are currently located, where they want them sent, and when they’ll receive them. We expect you to make every effort, including alternate shipping methods, to get baggage back to customers as quickly as possible. Also, under DOT’s regulation, Southwest is required to reimburse passengers up to $3,800 for provable direct or consequential damages resulting from the disappearance of, damage to, or delay in the delivery of a passenger’s baggage.

Here's the complete letter for your reading pleasure:

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