The federal government is investigating the December travel nightmares that plagued Southwest Airlines and inconvenienced millions of travelers at the holidays.
The U.S. Department of Transportation said Wednesday it is looking into whether the airline knowingly scheduled more flights than it could handle, thereby deceiving passengers, The Associated Press reported.
Southwest has said its schedule “was thoughtfully designed” with “a solid plan to operate it, and with ample staffing.”
Southwest blames weather conditions for overwhelming the scheduling system, stranding millions of passengers between Dec. 4 and Jan. 2, Forbes reported.
“Our systems and processes became stressed while working to recover from multiple days of flight cancellations across 50 airports in the wake of an unprecedented storm,” the company said in a statement, the AP reported.
The scheduling system crashed because of the flight changes needed due to the storm, Forbes reported.
Southwest said it will cooperate with the government and is “focused on learning from this event” to help prevent what happened from happening again.
The airline canceled about 16,700 flights at the end of December over the holiday travel season. It did start with a major winter storm, but other airlines recovered quicker than Southwest, which had to cut its schedule by two-thirds to get planes and crews in the correct locations, the AP reported.
Union officials had warned the company for years about the issues with its crew-scheduling system, especially when a similar issue happened in October 2021, but it wasn’t as extensive as the December 2022 meltdown, the AP reported.
If the government determines that Southwest was at fault for scheduling too many flights – breaking federal law – it could be held accountable, especially if Southwest does not abide by federal rules concerning refunds and reimbursements.
The Department of Transportation said it will “leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power,” the AP reported.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is also planning to hold hearings to discuss travel disruptions like the ones that impacted Southwest.
The airline has hired a consultant to look at what went wrong. The company has said it may upgrade some technology, but is waiting until the review is done.
Southwest said the cancellations will cost the company as much as $825 million in lost revenue and expenses, such as premium pay for employees and passenger reimbursements for hotels and alternate flights, the AP reported. More than half of that cost — between $400 million and $425 million — are refunds for tickets, CNN reported.
Another large portion is reimbursements to passengers who had to book flights on other carriers and a bonus of 25,000 frequent flyer points, CNN reported.
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