ICYMI: USDOT Announces Historic Penalty Against Southwest Airlines: $140 Million for 2022 Holiday Travel Meltdown

4 min readJan 26, 2024

Secretary Buttigieg highlighted the big wins for consumers on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox Business, NPR, CNBC, and Fox News

Washington — Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a $140 million civil penalty against Southwest Airlines for the 2022 holiday travel meltdown. DOT cited numerous violations of consumer protection laws during and after Southwest’s operational failures that resulted in nearly 17,000 flight cancellations, stranding over two million passengers over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year. The penalty against Southwest is 30 times larger than any previous penalty against an airline in DOT history and larger than all airline penalties since 1996 combined.

The $140 million penalty comes in addition to the $600 million in refunds and reimbursements that DOT already ensured Southwest provide passengers who faced travel disruptions during the operational meltdown. In total, thanks to DOT’s actions, Southwest will pay over $750 million for the holiday meltdown — with the vast majority going to passengers for refunds, reimbursements, rapid rewards, or future compensation.

Today’s announcement is part of Secretary Buttigieg’s ongoing work to hold all airlines accountable to their passengers. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation has returned a record amount of over $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements to travelers, issued the largest ever penalties against airlines for failing passengers, and is advancing the biggest expansion of airline consumer rights ever.

Read more about the announcement here.

See below to see what they’re saying about the penalty:

ABC News: Southwest Airlines fined record $140 million by DOT over 2022 holiday travel meltdown

“Today’s action sets a new precedent and sends a clear message: if airlines fail their passengers, we will use the full extent of our authority to hold them accountable,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. The $140 million fine adds to the about $600 million in refunds and reimbursements that had previously been agreed to over the meltdown, the DOT said. Officials said they will use the majority of the fine to compensate customers affected by future Southwest flight cancellations and other delays.

Reuters: Southwest Airlines agrees to $140 million penalty over 2022 holiday meltdown

USDOT found Southwest violated consumer protection laws by failing to provide adequate customer service assistance “via its call center to hundreds of thousands of customers” as well as failing to provide prompt flight status notifications to more than 1 million passengers and prompt refunds to thousands.

The New York Times: U.S. Fines Southwest Airlines $140 Million for Holiday Meltdown

Of the $140 million, Southwest Airlines will pay $35 million to the federal government. For the remaining amount, the department is giving the airline credit for providing frequent-flier points as an apology to customers affected by the meltdown, and for agreeing to give out tens of millions of dollars in vouchers to customers affected by future delays and cancellations. The fine is roughly 30 times what had previously been the department’s largest penalty against an airline for consumer protection violations, a $4.5 million settlement with Air Canada in 2021 over customer refunds.

The Washington Post: Transportation Department fines Southwest $140 million for Christmas meltdown

Consumer advocates said the penalty imposed on Southwest would send a signal to the rest of the airline industry. “The DOT has sent a forceful message to Southwest after its epic mistreatment of millions of passengers last December,” said William J. McGee, a senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project.

The Points Guy: DOT fines Southwest up to $140 million over 2022 holiday meltdown

It was the highest penalty ever leveraged against an airline for consumer protection violations by a factor of 30, the DOT said, part of a move by the Biden administration to crack down on airlines over unreliable operations, hidden fees and other practices the administration has characterized as anti-consumer.

American Prospect: Department of Transportation Issues $140 Million Fine for 2022 Southwest Holiday Meltdown

Combined with the record-setting $140 million fine, Southwest has paid $750 million in compensatory damages, about as much as the company earned in the first nine months of 2022.

Wall Street Journal: Southwest Hit With $140 Million Penalty for 2022 Holiday Meltdown as It Prepares for Next Christmas Weekend

State House News Service: Buttigieg: Southwest penalty puts airlines “on notice”

New York Magazine: Southwest Air Will Think Twice About Ruining the Holidays Again

The Points Guy: DOT fines Southwest up to $140 million over 2022 holiday meltdown

Fox News: Southwest Airlines reaches $140M settlement with DOT for 2022 holiday debacle

Politico: Southwest’s $140M penalty ‘should put all airlines on notice’ after travel debacle

Axios: Southwest Airlines fined $140 million over last winter’s meltdown

Daily Beast: Southwest Airlines Slapped With $140M Fine Over Its Holiday Travel Fiasco

NPR: Southwest will pay a $140 million fine for its meltdown during the 2022 holidays

MSNBC: Southwest $140M fine is a message to other airlines, says Secy. Buttigieg (Video)

CBS News: Southwest Airlines in $140 million deal with feds over 2022 holiday travel meltdown (Video)

CNN: Southwest hit by record $140 million fine for holiday service meltdown in 2022

CNBC: Southwest fined $140 million for last year’s holiday meltdown (Video)

NBC News: Southwest fined $140 million over 2022 holiday flight disruptions (Video)

BBC: Southwest Airlines fined $140m for holiday meltdown

The Hill: Southwest fined record $140M over 2022 holiday meltdown

New York Post: Southwest Airlines slapped with $140M penalty over 2022 holiday meltdown: ‘Strong deterrent’

Daily Mail: Southwest Airlines is fined record $140million for December 2022 holiday meltdown where they canceled 16,900 flight leaving 2million passengers stranded

Washington Examiner: Southwest fined $140 million by DOT over 2022 holiday travel disaster

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The Official Medium Account of the U.S. Department of Transportation