The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today fined Southwest Airlines $140 million over chaos at the airport last year, when it canceled 16,900 flights and left 2 million people grounded in the middle of the Christmas holiday.
In a statement, the Department of Transportation notes that this fine is 30 times larger than any other previously imposed for consumer violations, and is also in addition to the $600 million that Southwest had to pay in damages — in lodging, menus, and transportation. For passengers affected “as a result of the actions of the Ministry of Transport”.
The fine announced today will in effect compensate future passengers affected by airline cancellations or delays.
Southwest, with 815 planes serving 121 destinations and nearly 80,000 employees, is one of the country’s “Big Four” airlines, along with American Airlines, United and Delta.
In its statement, the Ministry of Transport stressed the exemplary nature of the penalty, which “sets a precedent and sends a clear message: If airlines defraud their passengers, we will use the full force of our authority to hold them accountable (…) This fine is a warning to airlines to take all measures so that such chaos does not occur.” Never again.
According to the department, Southwest violated three basic consumer rights: it did not provide adequate assistance to customers, it did not provide adequate notice of flight cancellations or delays, and it did not promptly and adequately compensate those affected.
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