Southwest Airlines vows refunds after mass cancelations left … – The Guardian US

Airline says it will also reimburse related expenses as other carriers are capping fares to assist stranded travelers
Southwest Airlines has promised to refund tickets and reimburse passengers for hotels, car rentals and other expenses after its mass cancelations left thousands of people stranded across the country.
The airline’s chief commercial officer, Ryan Green, told reporters on Thursday that it would take several weeks to repay customers, but that the airline would cover costs people incurred when they were forced to make alternative travel arrangements, including paying for meals and gas. The company said it would also pay to ship people’s baggage to them.
Several of Southwest Airlines’ competitors earlier said they would place price caps on travel to help people affected by the budget carrier’s cancelation debacle. Southwest said it planned to operate one-third of its schedule on Thursday but then “return to normal operations with minimal disruptions on Friday”.
American Airlines and United will implement a ceiling on airfares between certain cities, according to CNN. Delta has implemented “walk-up fare caps in US domestic markets”, a spokesperson for the carrier told Axios.
Alaska Airlines, which told Axios that it already had price ceilings in place, will also cut fares in certain cities. Frontier Airlines reportedly said that it limited its top fares to “pre-disruption levels”. Spirit, meanwhile, was waiving “modification changes or fare difference” between dozens of cities through 3 January, the news outlet said.
Southwest axed 2,363 flights on Thursday, far eclipsing any other carrier, data from indicates. As of Thursday night, the flight tracking website listed 39 flights scheduled for Friday that had been canceled. On Wednesday, Southwest cancellations numbered 2,510. Federal authorities said they would investigate the transit meltdown.
Southwest’s descent into logistical chaos started on Thursday 22 December. While many airlines saw cancelations due to a historic winter storm that brought blizzard-like conditions to much of the US, Southwest cancelled numerous flights in areas such as southern California that were not reeling from inclement weather.
The cancelations waylaid thousands of flyers over the holiday weekend and into this week, with no clear path for returning home. There were numerous accounts of hours-long lines, days-long delays, overflowing baggage claims and teary Southwest agents who were contending with livid customers.
Southwest’s rebooking policy worsened customers’ plight. The airline does not rebook passengers on competing airlines, according to CNN.
As Southwest does not have agreements with other carriers that would permit rebooking on rival airlines, this limits customers’ options. “Southwest is unique in the industry in that we don’t have codeshare partners,” a Southwest spokesperson told CNN. “That is just part of our business model.”
“I’m truly sorry,” Southwest’s chief executive, Bob Jordan, said in a video on Tuesday. He blamed cancelations on cold temperatures across the US, claiming they affected flight paths. “[A]fter days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up.”
Asked for comment on its rivals’ initiatives, Southwest told the Guardian in an email this morning: “We can’t comment on other airlines.”
“We continue to operate a reduced schedule by flying roughly one-third of our schedule through Thursday, as of now. We have no updates or adjustments to share regarding Friday’s schedule,” the company said. “Our teams are continuing the work of reuniting customers with their bags.”
Southwest said it offered additional resources to aid customers in the form of sites to locate luggage and information on where they can contact Southwest to rebook or request a refund.
The US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, has said the federal transit agency would investigate Southwest’s mass cancelations and determine whether it was meeting its legal obligations to affected customers. Buttigieg earlier said that Southwest was legally required to refund passengers for canceled flights and pay them within seven days if the customers paid by credit card. He also said the US transportation department would “take action to hold Southwest accountable” if it failed to reimburse customers for other expenses as promised.
“While we all understand that you can’t control the weather, this has clearly crossed the line from what is an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility,” Buttigieg recently said on NBC Nightly News.
The US Senate’s commerce committee chairperson, Maria Cantwell, also vowed to conduct an investigation. Two of Cantwell’s fellow Democratic senators and commerce committee members have also demanded that Southwest give “significant” compensation to marooned customers, insisting that the carrier is capable of doing so if its plans to dole out $428m (£354m) in dividends this January is any indication.
While the pandemonium at Southwest caused widespread misery, some passengers who were left stuck managed to find a way home together. Some hapless travelers – who were strangers to each other – banded together on road trips rather than wait out the airline.
Bridget Schuster, one of these road-trippers, went on TikTok and documented her journey from Florida to Ohio with three other passengers, all initially strangers.
“So far, no serial killer vibes,” Schuster quipped.


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