U.S. probes Southwest Airlines flight cancellations in December

dallas – The U.S. Transportation Department said Wednesday it is investigating whether Southwest Airlines defrauded customers by deliberately scheduling more flights in late December than it could actually handle.

Scheduling too many flights would be considered unfair and deceptive under federal law, the department said.

“The Department of Transportation is in the initial stages of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into the Southwest Airlines Vacations debacle that left millions stranded,” the department said in a statement.

The Transportation Department added that it would hold Southwest liable if the airline failed to comply with federal rules on refunding and compensating customers for canceled flights. The agency said it would “fully use its investigative and enforcement powers” to protect consumers.

Southwest said its vacation schedule was “well thought out” and “has a solid operating plan and is adequately staffed.”

“Our systems and processes became stressed as we worked to recover from days of flight cancellations at 50 airports due to an unprecedented storm,” Southwest said in a statement. The airline pledged to cooperate with the government. Any investigation and “focus on learning from this incident” and reducing the risk of it happening again.

Southwest Airlines canceled about 16,700 flights in the last 10 days of December. The collapse began with a winter storm, But Southwest continues to struggle Long after most other airlines recovered, in part because their crew scheduling systems were overloaded. Union officials said they have been warning airlines about the system for years, especially after a similar but less severe flight disruption in October 2021.

Dallas-based Southwest eventually cut its schedule by about two-thirds to reschedule crews and planes, and it succeeded.

The airline hired consulting firm Oliver Wyman to study what went wrong. Chief Executive Robert Jordan said the company may expedite spending on some technology upgrades because of the crisis, but he wanted to complete the review first.

Southwest Airlines said this month that canceled flights will cost it Up to $825 million Lost revenue and higher expenses, including premiums for employees and reimbursement of hotel and alternative flight costs for customers. As a result, the company is expected to post a fourth-quarter loss when it reports results on Thursday.

airlines are also dealing with Damaged reputation Serve customers. Analysts believe some customers may avoid Southwest Airlines for a short time, even though the airline typically recovers quickly from other service outages.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, has promised hearings like Southwest’s outage.

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