Southwest – Record Penalty Follows Record 2022 Meltdown!

By Spyros Georgilidakis | December 18, 2023

It’s almost a year since Southwest suffered the worst meltdown in aviation history, and it is now looking at a record-breaking civil penalty.

This was a disaster that lasted nearly a week, in December last year. It affected around 2 million passengers and involved nearly 17,000 flight cancellations. A particularly challenging winter storm that affected key parts of the United States was a big part of how this disaster happened.

Photo: Soly Moses

But there was much more to it than that, which is why Southwest is subject to this civil penalty. The airline had reportedly neglected to update its aircraft and crew scheduling systems. And as flight cancellations snowballed (literally?), the airline couldn’t match aircraft with crews, at the right airports.

Southwest and others in the industry expected a civil penalty, following intense scrutiny of the event. In total, the airline agreed to pay $140 million. Of that, $35 million is a cash fine. Southwest also agreed to compensate passengers with travel vouchers of $75 or more, if their flights are delayed three hours or more.

Southwest – Record Penalty Follows Record 2022 Meltdown!
Photo: Miguel Angel Sanz

Southwest Civil Penalty – A Strong Deterrent?

That’s if the delay happened because of an issue caused by the airline itself. The total value of these travel vouchers over the next three years will be $90 million. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released a statement, saying that these measures are “a strong deterrent” against similar disasters. The airline hinted that it will likely keep these measures in place, even after the three-year minimum.

Southwest – Record Penalty Follows Record 2022 Meltdown!
Photo: Lukas Souza

Of course, this civil penalty is far from the only cost that Southwest incurred, after last year’s meltdown. The airline has already paid about $600 to passengers who were caught up in these events. In total, the direct costs that Southwest incurred, before this penalty, surpassed $1 billion.

We have previously seen that Southwest has taken a number of measures to make sure there is no such disaster this year. The airline brought more ramp personnel and other staff to key locations and trained everyone on how to operate and stay safe in stormy conditions.

Photo: Werner Lehmann, CC BY-SA 2.0

The airline paid particular attention to its bases in Denver and Chicago. It also introduced additional de-icing trucks and pads in more locations. Southwest handled a snowstorm in Denver last October, with minimal disruptions.

Well before the news of this civil penalty, Southwest reported having MORE reservations over this year’s holiday period, than last year. We don’t yet know how deeply the airline has discounted its flights this winter, however. In any case, it appears that the public has largely forgiven the airline for what happened.



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