Southwest Airlines is expecting a fine from the US government for last winter’s meltdown during Christmas. The incident left two million passengers stranded after the airline canceled 16,700 flights.
The carrier said that it was notified by the US Department of Transportation last week. The agency found that Southwest “failed to provide adequate customer service assistance, prompt flight status notifications, and proper and prompt refunds.” And with this, a penalty is “warranted.”
In a regulatory filing on Monday, Southwest said that it is “currently not able to estimate” the amount of the fine.
Southwest Anticipated an Impending Fine
This isn’t a surprise for Southwest since the carrier already warned its investors in January about the looming fine for last winter’s meltdown. However, this was the first time that the airline disclosed the findings of the agency against them.
Last Winter’s Meltdown
The problem happened last December when a winter storm disrupted thousands of flights in the United States. While other airlines recovered, it was a different story for Southwest. It took several days for Southwest to recover as crew members were stranded since they couldn’t communicate with their dispatchers and schedulers. In addition to this, the airlines’ legacy technology failed to keep up with the number of changes.
The airline reportedly lost $800 million at the end of 2023 because of the lost revenue associated with last winter’s meltdown during Christmas. And it didn’t end there. The airline also reportedly lost another $325 million in revenue during the first three months of 2024 as a spillover effect from what happened in December.
Following the incident, Southwest released its “action plan” earlier this year. The plan calls for increasing the available winter equipment and staffing at specific airports. In addition to this, the airline plans to invest in technology that can help restart operations in extreme weather. And last, Southwest plans to improve communication and the decision-making in its departments that affect flight operations.
The meltdown opened a can of worms as Southwest’s pilot’s union testified to Congress saying that the operation was held together by “duct tape” and the technology failures were avoidable. The pilot’s union said that the system has failed more than once “with increasing frequency and magnitude.”