DOT Announces Investigation into Southwest Holiday Chaos

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced an investigation this Wednesday into Southwest Airlines’ chaotic holiday weekend in December 2022.

“DOT is in the initial phase of a rigorous and comprehensive investigation into Southwest Airlines’ holiday debacle that stranded millions. DOT has made clear to Southwest that it must provide timely refunds and reimbursements and will hold Southwest accountable if it fails to do so.

“DOT is also probing whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice. DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected and this process will continue to evolve as the Department learns more,” a DOT spokesperson told Smart Meetings on Friday.

Southwest filed regulatory papers this month that claimed the company may be liable for up to $825 million due to issues around the event.

Chris Perry, a spokesperson for Southwest, had this to say about the investigation:

“Our holiday flight schedule was thoughtfully designed and offered to our Customers with the backing of a solid plan to operate it, and with ample staffing. Our systems and processes became stressed while working to recover from multiple days of flight cancelations across 50 airports in the wake of an unprecedented storm.

“We have been working with the DOT and will continue to cooperate with any inquiry or request from government oversight or elected officials. We’re acutely focused on learning from this event, mitigating the risk of a repeat occurrence, and delivering the hospitality and outstanding service our Customers expect from us.”

American Airlines Reports Return to Profit, Reliability

In its fourth-quarter and full-year 2022 financial results call, American Airlines reported both a continued return to profitability and an “industry-leading” performance in reliability over the holiday.

The airline recorded fourth-quarter and full-year net income of $127 million and $803 million, respectively.

“The American Airlines team has produced outstanding results over the past year,” said American’s CEO Robert Isom in a statement. “We committed to running a reliable operation and returning to profitability, and our team is delivering on both. We’re proud to have led the industry in operational performance over the holidays while producing record full-year and fourth-quarter revenues, resulting in a third consecutive quarterly profit and a profit for the full year. As we turn our attention to 2023, we will continue to prioritize reliability, profitability and debt reduction.”

Importantly, for meeting planners, the airline says, “American and its regional partners operated more than 475,000 flights in the fourth quarter, with an average load factor of 83.9%. For the quarter, American ranked first in completion factor among the nine largest U.S. carriers.

The American team delivered an even stronger performance over the holidays, despite challenging conditions in many parts of the country. American outperformed the industry over the December holiday period, ranking first in completion factor. The momentum has continued into 2023 as American has delivered the best on-time arrival performance of the nine largest U.S. carriers so far this year.”