The White House says Southwest Airlines should bear full responsibility for massive holiday travel disruptions that stranded thousands of passengers across the U.S., and would be held accountable by the administration.
“Southwest Airlines failed its customers, point blank,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing on Tuesday. “While every major airline faced challenges from a pre-Christmas storm that wreaked havoc on the aviation system, all major airlines except for one, which is Southwest clearly, were able to recover quickly.”
The airline suffered a holiday meltdown blamed on an outdated scheduling system that failed to keep pace when a winter storm stretching across much of the continental US disrupted airport operations. Southwest canceled more than 15,700 flights from Dec. 22 through Dec. 29, or almost 51% of its total, according to FlightAware data.
“Southwest Airlines acknowledged all cancellations starting December 24 were controllable, in other words, not weather-related,” Jean-Pierre said. “So, that means the airline assumes responsibility based on Southwest’s prior commitments to customers.”
The Department of Transportation “will hold them accountable to their commitments to make their customers whole,” she said.
Spokespeople for Southwest didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.
Earlier Tuesday, Southwest said it improved operations over the New Year holiday weekend, with 11,092 flights during that period, a system completion rate of 99.1%. The company said nearly all baggage that was delayed during the travel disruptions would be shipped or delivered by midweek and that it was processing customer requests for refunds and reimbursements.
“The airline must cover re-booking, hotel rooms, meals and transportation to and from a hotel. What’s more, Southwest must make their customers whole by paying for coach flights, rental cars and trains to get people to their final destinations, and Southwest must return baggage as quickly as possible and reimburse passengers up to $3,800 in provable damage under Southwest care,” Jean-Pierre said.
“The Transportation Department is watching, they’re monitoring this very, very closely to ensure that this all happens, and will seek fines from Southwest if it doesn’t cover costs,” she said.
Josh Wingrove, Akayla Gardner, Richard Clough and Mary Schlangenstein, Bloomberg