Southwest Chaos Fires Calls to Get Airlines to Pay Late Passengers

  • US airlines are not legally required to offer any compensation for delayed or canceled flights.
  • Lawmakers are pushing for change, spurred in part by the recent chaos involving Southwest Airlines.
  • American travelers enjoy far less legal protection than those in Canada or Europe.

Southwest Airlines suffered major disruption last week, which began when winter storms plunged operations into chaos and stranded tens of thousands of passengers.

The chaos led to requests for legally binding protection for passengers and mandatory compensation for passengers facing lengthy delays.

Southwest has promised to pay for alternative travel, meals and hotel accommodation for all stranded passengers, but is not legally required to do so.

While American passengers are entitled to a full refund if their flight is cancelled, unlike in Canada and Europe, airlines are not required to offer any other compensation, provide meals and accommodation, or cover alternative travel expenses.

Also, according to the Department of Transportation, “there is no federal law requiring airlines to provide monetary or other compensation to passengers when their flights are delayed or cancelled.” Compensation is only legally required when passengers are “kicked out” from an oversold flight.

Instead, airlines often offer varying degrees of compensation and mitigation based on their own policies.

Last year, Democratic senators tried to quell these inconsistencies with the Airline Passenger Rights Bill.

This bill, clogged at the committee stage, would guarantee clear protections — including forcing airlines to offer $1,350 in cash compensation to passengers arriving more than four hours late to their destination “for any reason in the air carrier’s control”.

This includes crew scheduling and maintenance issues, but not extreme weather conditions.

Such regulations have been in effect in Europe since 2004, when the European Union mandated compensation for long delays or cancellations and forced airlines to pay for accommodation and meals.

Payments vary by delay, but can reach 600 Euros ($641) for delays longer than four hours or cancellations of flights longer than 2,175 miles.

Meanwhile, Canada implemented its own Air Passenger Protection Regulation in 2019. Mandatory charges for delayed passengers range from CAD 400 (US$295) for delays of at least three hours to US$1,000 (US$738) for delays of more than nine hours.

Jared Kamrowski, founder of travel site ThriftyTraveler, said it was too late for better protection for American travelers.

“Requiring airlines to compensate customers when they delay or cancel flights will give passengers more control and power. But most importantly, it will help keep airlines accountable by limiting the mass disruptions we’ve seen over the past few years.” Web site.

Federal lawmakers have signaled that they will investigate mass cancellations by Southwest. Some Democrats think the Department of Transportation should be much more aggressive for stronger passenger protections, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Katie Porter, a Democratic congresswoman from California, tweeted On Wednesday: “As a mother, I know how stressful the holidays can be… As a consumer protection lawyer, I know there are steps we can take to hold airlines accountable. Congress must act.”

A Southwest Airlines spokesperson told Insider: “We apologize to all of our customers affected by this disruption. Customers are encouraged to submit reasonable refund requests for incidental costs in addition to requests for refunds due to the disruption. These will be processed on a case-by-case basis.”

“Given the scale of the outage, all requests will take some time to process and our focus remains on ensuring stability and maintaining normal operations.”

The Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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