The Department of Transportation is investigating whether Southwest Airlines executives may have broken federal law by knowingly offering unrealistic scheduling options during its “holiday debacle” in late December, which left millions of travelers stranded across the country.
The Transportation Department is in the early stages of its probe to determine whether unrealistic scheduling took place, which would be an “unfair and deceptive practice” under federal law, a spokesperson said in a statement.
Southwest canceled more than 16,000 flights in late December, citing a shock to its crew scheduling software as the result of a historic winter storm that disrupted travel plans for many just before Christmas.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg issued a warning to Southwest on December 29, telling the airline it needed to reimburse stranded passengers for their flights and pay for alternative travel arrangements or face a potential penalty.
Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes.
“DOT has made clear to Southwest that it must provide timely refunds and reimbursements and will hold Southwest accountable if it fails to do so,” a Transportation Department spokesperson said.
Southwest is offering refunds and travel reimbursements on its website for customers impacted by cancellations between December 24 and January 2, but questions remain as to how the situation became so chaotic and how forthcoming Southwest was about the extent of the issues. Southwest claims its staffing was adequate to handle all scheduled flights, but has said its electronic scheduling system essentially crashed due to flight changes necessitated by the winter storm.
What To Watch For
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said the panel plans to hold hearings on the Southwest cancellations.