The U.S. Department of Transporation announced Wednesday that it was investigating Southwest Airlines for possible “unfair and deceptive” practices surrounding its planned flight schedules during last year’s Christmas meltdown that effectively grounded the carrier for almost a week during the holiday season.
In a statement, the DOT said it was looking into whether senior executives at the Dallas-based airline had engaged in “unrealistic scheduling of flights” during December 2022.
Federal law, the DOT continued, could class unrealistic scheduling as an “unfair and deceptive” practice.
“DOT is in the initial phase of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into Southwest Airlines´ holiday debacle that stranded millions,” the department said on Wednesday.
The statement added that the DOT would “leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power” to protect consumers.
Southwest says it expects to swing to a fourth-quarter loss as a result of December’s meltdown, with losses expected to hit $825 million according to the airline’s own calculations.
Much of that loss has been attributed to refunding passengers for cancelled flights and paying out compensation to cover hotel and travel expenses.
Southwest’s operations were initially hit by a wave of severe winter weather but, unlike its competitors, it was unable to recover as conditions improved and, instead, Southwest’s cancellations started to get worse.
The airline has blamed the meltdown on an antiquated crew scheduling system that couldn’t keep up with where available crew and planes were throughout Southwest’s network. In the end, the airline had to perform a reset to get crew and planes where they needed to be.
Southwest has denied that it created an unrealistic schedule and claimed the schedule “was thoughtfully designed” with “a solid plan to operate it, and with ample staffing.”
A statement from the airline continued: “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”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.