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Sunday, May 19, 2024

USDOT Alerts Passengers That Starting Today, Southwest Airlines Must Provide Compensation for Delays and Cancellations Within Their Control

DOT’s historic enforcement action against Southwest earlier this year requires the airline to provide $75 transferrable vouchers to passengers affected by delays and cancellations within the airline’s control that cause passengers to reach their destination three or more hours after their scheduled arrival time  

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is reminding passengers that starting today, Southwest Airlines must compensate them with a transferrable voucher worth at least $75 for any controllable cancellation or delay that causes passengers to reach their destination three or more hours after their scheduled arrival time. Southwest is required to provide this compensation as part of DOT’s recent historic enforcement action holding the airline accountable for its 2022 holiday meltdown that stranded millions of passengers across the country.

“After the 2022 holiday meltdown, our department held Southwest Airlines accountable—and now the airline is required to compensate passengers for lengthy delays and cancellations that they cause,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We’re pleased to bring these benefits to passengers, and further show the flying public that the Biden-Harris Administration has their back.”

When Compensation is Required
Southwest is required to provide compensation if:

  • A flight was cancelled or delayed within seven days of the scheduled departure date; 
  • Passengers arrived at their destination three or more hours later than planned; and
  • The delay or cancellation was caused by something that Southwest could control, such as a maintenance or staffing issue.

Passengers will not be eligible for compensation if the cause of the disruption was not within the airline’s control, such as bad weather.

How to Request Compensation

  • Per the agreement with DOT, Southwest has created an easy-to-find online form (southwest.com/delayform) for passengers to request compensation. 
  • Passengers must submit requests within one year from the date of the delayed/cancelled flight. 
  • If passengers enter erroneous information on the form, they will get an error message, and a chance to edit and re-submit the required information 
  • Southwest will respond to the customer via email within 30 days of receiving a voucher request form and if the consumer is eligible, Southwest will follow-up with a voucher for that consumer.  
  • The vouchers will be transferrable and will be valid for at least one year after the date of issuance. 

DOT will be closely monitoring Southwest’s compensation program to ensure that passengers get the relief they are owed. The airline must submit an annual report to DOT every May for the next three years detailing the voucher expenditures.

In 2022, under Secretary Buttigieg’s guidance, DOT created an Airline Customer Service Dashboard known as FlightRights.gov to help airline passengers understand what they are entitled to receive when a delay or cancellation was within the airlines’ control and create  standards that the Department can enforce. DOT has updated the Airline Cancellation and Delay dashboard to reflect Southwest’s mandated compensation program.

Find more information on DOT’s $140 million enforcement action against Southwest Airlines for the 2022 holiday meltdown here.

DOT’s Historic Record of Consumer Protection Under the Biden-Harris Administration

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, DOT has advanced the largest expansion of airline passenger rights, issued the biggest fines against airlines for failing consumers, and returned more money to passengers in refunds and reimbursements than ever before in the Department’s history.

  • Just last week, DOT announced two final rules that require airlines to provide automatic cash refunds to passengers when owed and protect consumers from costly surprise airline fees. These rules will significantly expand consumer protections in air travel, provide passengers an easier pathway to refunds when owed, and save consumers over half a billion dollars every year in hidden and surprise junk fees.
  • As mentioned above, DOT launched the flightrights.gov dashboard, and now all 10 major U.S. airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a significant delay or cancellation. These are new commitments the airlines added to their customer service plans that DOT can legally ensure they adhere to and are displayed on flightrights.gov.
  • Since President Biden took office, DOT has helped return more than $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements owed to airline passengers – including over $600 million to passengers affected by the Southwest Airlines holiday meltdown in 2022.
  • DOT has issued over $164 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations. Between 1996 and 2020, DOT collectively issued less than $71 million in penalties against airlines for consumer protection violations.
  • DOT recently launched a new partnership with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general to fast-track the review of consumer complaints, hold airlines accountable, and protect the rights of the traveling public.
  • In 2023, the flight cancellation rate in the U.S. was a record low at under 1.2% — the lowest rate of flight cancellations in over 10 years despite a record amount of air travel.
  • DOT is undertaking its first ever industry-wide review of airline privacy practices and its first review of airline loyalty programs

In addition to finalizing the rules to require automatic refunds and protect consumers from surprise fees, DOT is also pursuing rulemakings that would: 

  • Propose to ban family seating junk fees and guarantee that parents can sit with their children for no extra charge when they fly. Before President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg pressed airlines last year, no airline committed to guaranteeing fee-free family seating. Now, four airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, as the Department is working on its family seating junk fee ban proposal.
  • Propose to make passenger compensation and amenities mandatory so that travelers are taken care of when airlines cause flight delays or cancellations. 
  • Expand the rights for passengers who use wheelchairs and ensure that they can travel safely and with dignity. The comment period on this proposed rule closes on May 13, 2024.

Consumers may file an airline complaint with the Department here

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Official news published at https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/usdot-alerts-passengers-starting-today-southwest-airlines-must-provide-compensation

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