Cantwell demands full accounting of Southwest Airlines’ refunds after holiday travel disruptions

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 19, 2023—U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, sent a letter to Southwest Airways COO Andrew Watterson previous Wednesday demanding added information and facts about refunds becoming offered to clients impacted by the airline’s December 2022 getaway travel disruptions.

The letter follows an assertion from Watterson in the course of a February 9 Commerce Committee hearing that the airline experienced processed 99.5{e9f0aada585b9d73d0d08d3c277fd760092386ec23cac37d50f4b8cd792b062a} of refund requests, yet the COO could not present Sen. Cantwell with the details powering it. In today’s letter to Watterson, she writes:

“At the listening to, I requested how numerous tickets Southwest in fact cancelled and you did not provide a distinct solution. I also asked how many men and women really obtained refunds and also did not get a distinct respond to. The Committee justifies clarity on these questions, in light of the truth that on February 3, 2023, Southwest instructed Committee team that the airline experienced ‘processed’ 99.5{e9f0aada585b9d73d0d08d3c277fd760092386ec23cac37d50f4b8cd792b062a} of refund requests.”

The letter goes on to ask for a detailed accounting of Southwest’s refunds issued to prospects, as perfectly as clarity about the airline’s refund coverage. The comprehensive text of the letter is Right here and below.

Sen. Cantwell’s action was influenced by listening to the tale of Veronica Gutierrez at a February 7 roundtable with Washingtonians impacted by Southwest’s operational failures during the holiday seasons.

Gutierrez ordered a ticket to fly her energetic-obligation navy son dwelling to Bellevue from Fort Stewart, GA, as a result of California. Her son achieved California but Southwest cancelled his flights to Sea-Tac. He hardly ever produced it household for the vacations. Gutierrez said through the roundtable that she experienced but to acquire a monetary refund.

“Southwest … sent me an e-mail, [crediting] me 50,000 points,” Gutierrez said all through the roundtable. “I did reply to the email and explained to them that I would get the 50,000 points, but I also would like my cash refunded to me. I have not heard just about anything back again from them in regards to my economical refund.”

All through the oversight listening to, Sen. Cantwell experienced pressed Watterson for extra in depth details on the variety of would-be fliers who had essentially obtained refunds for their cancelled tickets – no matter whether or not they experienced submitted a official ask for with Southwest.

“Do you know the number of how numerous true tickets ended up cancelled?” Sen. Cantwell questioned.

“I have the refunds, would that be adequate?” Watterson responded.

Sen. Cantwell ongoing: “No. No. … What we’re truly seeking to have an understanding of here… [is] how many folks actually experienced their tickets cancelled. And then, you want to know how lots of people you truly did refund. So until you know that, you really don’t truly know the respond to. You know how several people submitted one thing, but what we really want to know is how numerous tickets basically have been cancelled that didn’t fly. So if we could get that info from you that would be practical.”

“Certainly,” Watterson explained.

In her letter Sen. Cantwell questioned Southwest to “provide…precise solutions and genuine numbers” to a sequence of concerns relating to the company’s true efforts to reimburse and refund shoppers which include the total quantity of travellers whose tickets ended up cancelled, the number who requested a refund, and the selection of travellers the airline had refunded.

The Office of Transportation needs airways to situation refunds to clients inside of seven organization days of a refund ask for when: (1) an airline cancels a flight and the purchaser chooses not to re-e book or (2) an airline causes a major plan improve or hold off, and the customer chooses not to journey.

The information and facts requested from Southwest would expose how numerous shoppers, like Gutierrez, drop into this class but did not obtain well timed refunds, or any refunds at all.

Expensive Mr. Watterson:

Thank you for testifying on February 9, 2023, ahead of the U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation about the root result in of Southwest Airlines’ vacation debacle in December 2022 and the steps the airline has taken to treatment the challenge and penalties.

At the hearing, I asked how quite a few tickets Southwest truly cancelled and you did not offer a clear solution. I also questioned how a lot of people today actually been given refunds and also did not get a distinct reply. The Committee justifies clarity on these questions, in mild of the truth that on February 3, 2023, Southwest explained to Committee workers that the airline experienced “processed” 99.5{e9f0aada585b9d73d0d08d3c277fd760092386ec23cac37d50f4b8cd792b062a} of refund requests.

We also discovered at the oversight hearing that travellers are going through as well numerous hurdles in acquiring refunds and accessing details from airlines when airlines cancel their flights. Clarifying the guidelines for refunds and simplifying the process for receiving a refund are between the widespread-perception reforms we are thinking of for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization.

To further more teach the Committee in furtherance of these aims, make sure you present solutions to the pursuing concerns with precise solutions and actual quantities, as applicable. You may well also supply percentages, the place proper, for supplemental context.

  1. Due to Wintertime Storm Elliott, Southwest’s loss of operational management, and subsequent determination to reboot its community, how many Southwest travellers were being subjected to a cancelled or significantly delayed flight—the threshold for refund entitlement during DOT policy—or were being if not eligible for a refund less than either DOT plan or Southwest’s possess criteria? Make sure you provide facts for, at a minimal, December 21 by way of December 30.
  2. Of that volume:
  1. How many travellers basically requested a refund?
  2. How a lot of travellers did you refund, and what is the total worth of those people refunds?
  3. Rather of a refund, how numerous passengers proactively acknowledged a voucher or credit history?
  4. As an alternative of a refund, how a lot of passengers re-booked on Southwest?
  1. Of the refund requests that Southwest has done, how a lot of were concluded right after DOT’s seven company day deadline?
  2. For any passengers who have been subjected to a canceled or considerably delayed flight thanks to Winter season Storm Elliott and/or Southwest’s subsequent determination to reboot its network, but who did not go after a refund, voucher, credit score, or re-reserving, what steps is Southwest taking to ensure that they are made complete?
  3. Concerning reimbursements for out-of-pocket costs, last 7 days you advised the Committee that 284,188 “eligible cases” experienced been submitted to Southwest, and that Southwest has sent reimbursements for all but the 10,782 most not long ago-manufactured requests. How numerous claims did Southwest deem to be ineligible for reimbursement?
  4. Please supply a in-depth explanation of Southwest’s conditions for pinpointing the eligibility of a reimbursement ask for.
  5. You testified that the “fix” to the crew scheduling technique would be done the working day following the hearing. Be sure to affirm no matter if this take care of is total. If not, you should present the day when the crew scheduling procedure will be preset.

Thank you for your well timed response to these issues. Remember to deliver a reaction in composing to my personnel by February 23, 2023.

Supply: Workplace of Maria Cantwell