Consumer Alert: Buttigieg threatens big fines if Southwest fails to compensate customers

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Southwest Airlines is finally back in the air. But they’re not out of trouble. Pete Buttigieg, the secretary of transportation, sent the CEO a scathing letter demanding customers be compensated.  And Pete Buttigieg did not mince words.  He blames Southwest leadership for the massive meltdown that led to the cancelation of more than 15,000 flights. That said, because that colossal catastrophe was the airline’s fault, folks with flight disruptions from December 24th to January 2nd should be compensated.

And he reminded Southwest of its own policy. That policy, now easily accessible on the DOT’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard, promises to provide meal vouchers to folks whose flight is canceled and they have to wait three hours or more for another flight.  The policy also promises hotel accommodations to folks stranded overnight because of a canceled flight.

But we interviewed countless passengers who told us they were stuck in airports and Southwest offered them nothing.  One of those interviews was with Sharon Hughes, my cousin, who flew to Rochester from Houston but got stuck overnight in Baltimore when Southwest canceled her connecting flight.  She says when she asked a gate agent about a meal voucher or hotel accommodations, she was told SWA was not providing anything.

That would appear to be a violation of Southwest’s own policy which specifically says it provides both vouchers and hotel accommodations.  So now Buttigieg is vowing to investigate and punish the airline if it fails to compensate customers. 

In an interview with NBC News he said, “We are going to be putting Southwest Airlines under a microscope in terms of their delivering these kinds of reimbursements and refunds to passengers. The airline said to me that they were going to go above and beyond what’s required of them. I’m looking to make sure they actually do that, and if they don’t, we are in a position to levy 10’s of 1000’s of dollars per violation per passenger in fines.”

Buttigieg listed in his letter four demands:

  • Get passengers to their destination or provide refunds for customers who were forced to get alternate transportation.
  • Provide reimbursement for meals, hotels and ground transportation to and from hotels for anyone who incurred these expenses because of canceled Southwest flights.
  • Provide refunds for passengers for canceled flights within 7 days if they paid by credit card and within 20 days if they paid by cash or check.
  • Get bags to customers by any means necessary as quickly as possible and reimburse customers up to $3800 for lost bags.

Click here to submit your receipts to Southwest for reimbursement.