The Southwest is stabilizing, but now the fight for refunds and refunds begins

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After canceling more than 12,000 flights this week and ruining the vacation travel plans of millions of Americans, Southwest was on track for a smoother Friday with only a few dozen cancellations in sight to start the day.

The unprecedented collapse began with a storm last week but has spiraled out of control for Southwest, with the Dallas-based airline canceling about two-thirds of its flights each day this week. By canceling so many flights, Southwest hoped to free up time to get its crews and planes in place for restart operations by the end of the week. So far, it seems that plan has worked.

“I want to be really candid: It’s impacted so many people, so many customers over the holidays,” CEO Bob Jordan said in an interview with hello america early Friday. “I am extremely sorry for this.”

After a year marked by massive disruption as airlines struggled to meet growing travel demand, Southwest’s year-end slump is its biggest yet, dominating the national news cycle for days. . This week alone, Southwest has canceled more than 12,000 flights — nearly double the cancellations of Delta and United Airlines combined … in all of 2019, according to Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

While a historic winter storm last week pushed other US airlines to their limits, it’s now clear that it simply erupted from the southwest for a few key reasons:

  • Snow and sub-zero temperatures last week have hammered some of its major airports like Denver (DEN), Chicago-Midway (MDW), Baltimore (BWI) and others, some of which are not as well equipped to cope with the rigors of winter.
  • Unlike other major carriers that depart from their hub airports and return, Southwest’s network is structured differently: their planes deploy across the country, flying from point to point. It works well when the sky is clear, but this pattern can make it harder to catch up when things start to go wrong
  • Outdated crew-scheduling software essentially broke under the strain, forcing Southwest to try to manually assign pilots and other crew to thousands of flights, according to a memo obtained by Aviation Watchdog xJonNYC

But on Friday morning, Jordan resumed blaming his airline’s collapse largely on the brutal storm and its impact on Southwest’s massive network.

“It affects so many large sites at the same time… When you try to fix a problem in so many sites, it becomes very difficult,” he said. “At some point, solving this problem – and we have great tools and processes – but solving this problem becomes very daunting.”

Still, the airline’s top executive said the airline would have “a lot of lessons learned” to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But first, millions of Americans affected by Southwest’s collapse this week will be fighting to get their money back. This may be easier said than done.

What will Southwest cover for travelers?

This is not just a million dollar question, but a billion dollar question for Southwest and its customers. The answer will go deep into the gray area of ​​the airline industry and consumer protection.

Travelers to the United States have surprisingly few rights. There is no legal obligation for airlines to feed customers or house them in a hotel when they are stranded overnight, let alone pay additional compensation for the disruption. There is only one real guarantee in US law: when airlines cancel a flight, travelers can seek a full refund.

Read our editorial calling for more rights and protections for passengers when airlines cancel and delay flights!

With Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and members of Congress pushing the airline to put things right, the airline has pledged to reimburse customers whose flights have been canceled as well as cover additional costs like last minute flights on other airlines, rental cars, hotels, and meals. There is now a dedicated page for customers in the South West to submit reimbursement requests as well as receipts.

But details on how much coverage Southwest has are scarce. Southwest says it will “honor reasonable requests for refunds” – but nothing is required by law, what is reasonable is up to Southwest alone.

Is a $1,500 last-minute one-way flight from New York City-LaGuardia (LGA) to Denver (DEN) booked on another airline this week reasonable? Will the airline cover all or part of it? Southwest doesn’t say: A spokesperson repeatedly declined to provide details, saying only that refund requests “will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Jordan told Good Morning America the airline will “go above and beyond” to cover those costs.

“We will look into and take care of things like car rental, hotel rooms, meals, booking customers on other airlines. This will all be part of what we cover here as we reimburse our customers and fix this issue,” he said.

Landing of a Southwest Airlines plane

While there are more questions than answers about what will and won’t be held — and how soon travelers can expect a check — a few more details have been revealed:

  • Buttigieg said Thursday that Southwest promised to cover “economy class flights flown on other airlines”. Southwest declined to confirm or respond to whether the airline would also cover first-class seating if that was all that was available.
  • Leaders of the Southwest recently told reporters that the volume of requests means that it will take several weeks to provide both refunds and refunds
  • But Buttigieg made it clear in a letter to Southwest this week that he expects refunds to be issued “within seven business days if a passenger has paid by credit card” or within 20 days if he is paid by cash, check or other methods.

With few requirements set in stone, exactly what passengers will receive from the South West will depend on public pressure. Buttigieg stepped up pressure on the airline to ensure it delivers, including a letter in which he outlined expectations that Southwest would provide prompt refunds, cover additional costs and reunite passengers with lost luggage.

“No amount of financial compensation can fully compensate passengers who have missed times with their family that they can never get back – Christmases, birthdays, weddings and other special events,” Buttigieg wrote. “That’s why it’s so important for Southwest to begin by reimbursing passengers for these costs which can be measured in dollars and cents.”

He later added, “The Department will use the full extent of its investigative and enforcement powers to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to honor promises made to reimburse passengers for costs incurred for an alternate means of transportation. transportation.”

What to do now

Have you been blocked by Southwest this week? Accumulating huge expenses for last minute flights, a rental car or hotels? Bag still lost? Unfortunately, it’s up to you to fight for yourself.

Southwest says it will refund or refund any passenger whose flight was canceled between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2, 2023. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you get every penny you can:

  • Submit your refund request now. Head southwest page dedicated to travel disruptions and fill in your booking information from your canceled flight.
  • Gather your receipts. Emergency flights on other airlines, rental cars you have booked to get home, meals, hotels, clothing and supplies because your bag was lost by the airline – any additional expenses you incurred at the following the collapse of Southwest this week. Head toward The Southwest Contact Page and select “Claim -> Flight -> Flight Cancellation ->” and attach your receipts.

southwest complaint form

  • Still waiting for your bag? Submit a Baggage Declaration with your reservation information (and bag details) so that Southwest can track it down and send it to you.
  • Not getting what you expect from Southwest? File a complaint against Southwest directly with the Department of Transportation.


Southwest’s collapse this week was catastrophic — not just for the airline but for millions of Americans. But while Southwest’s planes are back in the skies on time, it’s not over yet.

Here’s hoping Southwest refunds every penny to travelers whose flights were disrupted this week and takes the necessary steps to ensure it never happens again. The pressure is there.

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