ORLANDO, Fla. — The meltdown of Southwest Airlines’ flight scheduling systems showed no signs of slowing down Tuesday as the airline canceled flights deeper into the week.
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As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, the airline had canceled 52% of flights arriving or departing MCO, as well as 50% of Wednesday’s flights and 43% of Thursday’s flights.
Near the airline’s check-in desks, many passengers worried about securing hotel rooms and wondered if it was worth shelling out $350 per day for a rental car to drive home instead.
“This afternoon, Secretary Buttigieg spoke with the CEO of Southwest Airlines and conveyed that he expects the airline to live up to the commitments it has made to passengers,” a USDOT spokesman wrote. “The Department will take action to hold Southwest accountable if it fails to fulfill its obligations and we will stay engaged with Southwest Airlines to make sure the airline does not allow a situation like this to happen again.”
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It can be easy to feel hopeless when you’re at the whim of a faceless corporation such as a major airline, but U.S. law ensures passengers have rights in difficult situations.
The FAA mandates that each airline has a customer service plan that spells out its responsibilities to passengers. Southwest is no exception.
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Here are some of the rights passengers have:
- Southwest Airlines must notify passengers of delays or cancellations
“If your flight experiences a delay of 30 minutes or more, is canceled,or is diverted, we use an automated system to notify you within 30 minutes of our being made aware of such flight status change. Unless you opt out, you will be notified by email, voice, or text, depending on the selection made at the time the reservation was booked.”
- Southwest Airlines must deliver your baggage – or pay
“If delayed, we make every reasonable effort to return your luggage to you within 24 hours. If your luggage is delayed or lost for reasons outside of your control, you may file a mishandled baggage report at the airport and submit a claim for consideration of reimbursement of reasonable expenses you may have incurred.”
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- Southwest Airlines must refund canceled trips
“Eligible refunds are provided according to the ticket’s original form of payment and rules associated with that form of payment.”
USDOT officials said canceled flights qualify as eligible for all airlines.
- Southwest Airlines must handle bumped passengers fairly
“If you are involuntarily denied boarding you will be given a written Notice of Denied Boarding to help understand our policies, compensation, and travel alternatives. You will generally be entitled to compensation and transportation on the next available Southwest flight.”
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- Southwest Airlines will be responsive to customer complaints
“Written complaints will receive an acknowledgement in writing indicating receipt of the complaint within 30 days of receipt. You will also receive a substantive response no later than 60 days after our receipt of your complaint.”
- Southwest Airlines has to take care of passengers on canceled flights
“For significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are within our control (e.g., mechanical problems, aircraft swap) we will rebook you on the next available Southwest flight(s) with seats available to your ticketed destination at no additional cost. If you choose not to travel due to a significant delay and/or cancelation, Southwest will issue a refund of the unused portion of your Southwest ticket.”
“During flight delays that are within our control of three (3) or more hours and/or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are within our control that result in a wait of three (3) or more hours for a flight at the airport, we will provide a meal voucher upon request at the airport for participating vendors within the airport or, if participating vendors and/or vouchers are not available, we will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for meals purchased during such irregular operations.
Additionally, we may provide complimentary snacks and beverages for Customers.”
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“If Southwest flight accommodations departing on the same day to your intended destination or applicable co-terminal city are not available following a flight delay or Southwest-initiated cancelation that is within our control (e.g., mechanical problems, aircraft swap), resulting in an overnight delay or stay, we will arrange lodging accommodations upon request if available, or will honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for lodging accommodations (provided you do not reside locally).
If the lodging accommodation we arrange does not provide shuttle service to/from the airport, we will offer a voucher upon request or honor reasonable requests for reimbursement for ground transportation.”
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“For significant flight delays or Southwest-initiated cancelations that are not within our control (e.g., weather, Air Traffic Control, safety/security-related events, FAA-required crew duty limitations, infrastructure/utility problems), we will rebook you on the next available Southwest flight(s) with seats available to the Customer’s ticketed destination at no additional cost. If you choose not to travel due to a significant delay and/or cancellation, Southwest will issue a refund of the unused portion of your Southwest ticket.”
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan tweeted a video statement late Tuesday. You can watch it below:
On the heels of wide-scale disruptions, we're working diligently to Safely recover our operation & accommodate displaced Customers & Crews. We know this is unacceptable & sincerely apologize. If your travel was impacted, explore self-service options here: https://t.co/B6L8HR9Yqc pic.twitter.com/mLWndYMned— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) December 28, 2022
Flying another airline? Here are the customer service plans for American, Delta, United, Spirit, Frontier, Alaska, JetBlue, Allegiant.
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