The U.S. Department of Transportation is in the initial phases of an investigation into Southwest Airlines’ travel meltdown, and the agency will look at whether executives overscheduled flights, a spokesperson said.
Southwest canceled thousands of flights, slashing around two-thirds of its daily schedule, for days as it struggled to recover from winter weather even as other airlines did. Passengers were left stranded and scrambling to find other ways to get home.
The Department of Transportation is “probing whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice,” the agency spokesperson said.
Southwest Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
The DOT said it was also ensuring Southwest was providing refunds and reimbursements to passengers.
“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,” the department spokesperson said Wednesday.
The cancellations, which came after the Christmas holiday, infuriated passengers. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the cancellations unacceptable and said his department would look at its scheduling system.
Southwest canceled an estimated 11,000 flights in the week after Christmas, and the airline has pinned the cost of the fiasco at upward of $800 million.
Southwest has called its own performance unacceptable and apologized. CEO Bob Jordan said earlier this month that the company is budgeted to spend $1 billion on “investments, upgrades, and maintenance of our IT systems.”