The Department of Transportation issued a $150,000 fine against Southwest Airlines on Tuesday for failing to respond to passenger complaints in a timely manner. DoT claims the airline violated 14 CFR Part 382 requiring carriers to provide a timely response to written consumer complaints.
According to DoT, the violations were discovered an April 2012 compliance inspection at Southwest headquarters in Dallas, Texas. The inspection revealed that between June 2011 and January 2012, a problem with the airline's website was preventing it from receiving complaints submitted by passengers. The majority of the complaints were disability and consumer-related issues.
When Southwest discovered the problem, it responded to all of the missed complaints. However, DoT claims the carrier committed another violation by not addressing the specific facts outlined in the complaints filed by passengers with disabilities. The airline simply provided a response that summarized its policy regarding passengers with disabilities.
"Southwest states that it did not address the specific facts of each complaint or admit or deny alleged violations because the company’s main priority was to respond to each consumer as quickly as possible given the delay that had already occurred," DoT said in its consent order.
DoT is requiring Southwest to pay $35,000 of the $150,000 fine, and the remaining amount is being credited to refunds that were provided to the affected passengers.
"The Company’s main priority was to respond to each consumer as quickly as possible, given the delay that had already occurred. In this situation, Southwest refunded the full ticket amount of every customer affected. Following this incident, Southwest enacted significant safe-guards to ensure that similar website routing errors are avoided," a spokeswoman for Southwest said in a statement.
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