The American government has begun investigating Southwest airlines after millions of travelers were left stranded last month due to an unprecedented amount of canceled flights.
During the last ten days of December, in what is typically one of the busiest periods of the year for travel, approximately 16,700 flights were canceled by Southwest airlines due to a combination of weather and staffing issues.
Although a winter storm kicked off the ten days of chaos, other airlines recovered far quicker than Southwest airlines, prompting speculations that they had taken bookings for flights that were never going to run.
Southwest airlines use a unique system for crew scheduling, and it was said to have become “overloaded” during this period of time. Although Unions had warned the airline about the pitfalls of this system in the past, their concerns fell on deaf ears.
Now, a month later, the US Department of Transportation has said that they are in the initial phase of a “rigorous and comprehensive” investigation into the debacle.
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“We messed up”
Southwest Airlines are cooperating fully with the investigation, already holding their hands up and taking responsibility. CEO of the airline, Bob Jordan, has acknowledged that it will be a long road back to regain the trust of American tourists. He told CNBC:
“I can’t say it enough, we messed up. We took goodwill out of the bank – we know that. We have work to do to repair trust, but our customers are very loyal, and we’re seeing loyalty.”
This loyalty will certainly be put to the test should the Department of Transportation’s investigation result in a conclusion that the airline did in fact schedule flights that were unlikely to fly.
Not only would this be incredibly immoral, but it would also be a violation of federal law as it would be considered an unfair and deceptive practice. Talking about the investigation, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said:
“We have made clear to Southwest that it must provide timely refunds and reimbursement and will hold Southwest accountable if it fails to do so.
We will leverage the full extent of our investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected and this process will continue to evolve as the Department learns more.”
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An $800m Debacle
Southwest officials have said that the ten days of chaos last month have cost the airline around $800m and are insistent that although they messed up, the issues weren’t born out of deceit. A spokesperson told Fox business:
“The flight schedule was thoughtfully designed and offered to our customers with the backing of a solid plan to operate it and with ample staffing.
Our systems and processes became stressed while working to recover from multiple days of flight cancelations across 50 airports in the wake of an unprecedented storm.
We will continue to cooperate with any inquiry or request from government oversight or elected officials. We’re acutely focused on learning from this event, mitigating the risk of a repeat occurrence, and delivering the hospitality and outstanding service our customers expect from us.”
Current data shows that many customers have turned their backs on Southwest airlines, with bookings significantly down this month when compared to last January. However, the airline has stated that bookings for March look promising.
With the airline now in limbo while they await the conclusion of the investigation, they will be hoping to have an issue-free first quarter of 2023 to regain trust within the travel community.