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Transportation Department fines Southwest $140M for 2022 holiday meltdown

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Southwest Airlines $140 million on Monday for its holiday 2022 meltdown. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 2 | The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Southwest Airlines $140 million on Monday for its holiday 2022 meltdown. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation Monday fined Southwest Airlines $140 million for its operational meltdown last holiday season.

The department said the civil penalty was imposed on Southwest for "numerous violations of consumer protection laws" during and after the period that saw the airline 16,900 flights during the 2022 Christmas holiday and into the New Year affecting passengers across the country.

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"Today's action sets a new precedent and sends a clear message: if airlines fail their passengers, we will use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

"Taking care of passengers is not just the right thing to do -- it's required, and this penalty should put all airlines on notice to take every step possible to ensure that a meltdown like this never happens again."

The Transportation Department said Southwest failed its customers on several fronts last year, including failing to provide adequate customer service assistance, failing to provide prompt flight status notifications, and failing to provide refunds promptly and properly.

The department said the civil penalty is 30 times larger than any other DOT penalty for consumer protection violations. Most of the penalty will go toward compensating future Southwest passengers affected by cancelations or significant delays caused by the airline.

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"The order provides such relief by penalizing Southwest Airlines $140 million and compensating future Southwest passengers impacted by controllable cancellations and significant delays," the department said.

The penalty comes on top of the $600 million the department ordered Southwest to pay passengers who faced travel disruptions during the 2022 operational meltdown.

Southwest said it has improved its response to customer calls, ticket refunds and expense reimbursement, and flight status notifications that will ease the burden of a future mishap.

"We have spent the past year acutely focused on efforts to enhance the customer experience with significant investments and initiatives that accelerate operational resiliency, enhance cross-team collaboration and bolster overall preparedness for winter operations," Bob Jordan, Southwest Airlines president and CEO said in a statement. "Our commitment to Customers has been central to our success across our 52-year history and has helped us become one of the world's most admired and trusted airlines."

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