Senators urge Southwest to give stranded flyers "significant monetary compensation"
Several Democratic senators are urging Southwest Airlines to compensate thousands of flyers whose flights were canceled during peak holiday travel, as the airline nixes the majority of flights on its schedule.
Passengers across the country are stranded, and in some cases, told it will be days or more than a week before they can book another flight, as internal issues plague the airline. Democratic Sens. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said that while Southwest can't make things right for customers whose holidays "have been ruined," those passengers can be rebooked, reimbursed, and given "significant monetary compensation."
"Instead of a holiday spent celebrating with family and friends, passengers are sleeping in airports or desperately trying to reach customer service agents," Blumenthal and Markey said in a statement Tuesday. "For those travelers whose holidays have been ruined, there is no real way for Southwest to make this right. But the company can start by fairly compensating passengers whose flights were canceled, including not only rebooked tickets, ticket refunds, and hotel, meal, and transportation reimbursement, but significant monetary compensation for the disruption to their holiday plans."
"Southwest is planning to issue a $428 million dividend next year – the company can afford to do right by the consumers it has harmed," they continued. "Southwest should focus first on its customers stranded at airports and stuck on interminable hold."
The chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation said Tuesday that her panel will be looking into Southwest's failures.
"The problems at Southwest Airlines over the last several days go beyond weather," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Democratic chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "The committee will be looking into the causes of these disruptions and its impact to consumers. Many airlines fail to adequately communicate with consumers during flight cancellations. Consumers deserve strong protections, including an updated consumer refund rule."
The Department of Transportation has proposed a rule to better define when an airline must refund tickets, and Cantwell, Markey and Blumenthal have urged the Transportation Department to strengthen and finalize that rule to make sure customers receive fair compensation for cancelations or significant delays when an issue is within the airline's control. They've urged the Transportation Department to require airlines to also cover secondary costs, like hotel rooms, food and transportation, when an airline cancels a flight due to a problem within its control. That rule has not yet been finalized.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he's closely monitoring the situation.
"USDOT is concerned by Southwest's unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service," the Department of Transportation tweeted late Monday. "The department will examine whether cancellations were controllable and if Southwest is complying with its customer service plan."
— Kris Van Cleave contributed to this report
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