Traveling during the holidays is always hectic, but 2022 was particularly chaotic, thanks, in part, to a record-breaking winter storm that caused thousands of flight delays and cancellations. If you were scheduled to fly on Southwest Airlines over the holiday break, there’s a good chance you experienced the inconveniences first hand. Thankfully, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is allowing customers to file a Southwest flight cancellation complaint for disrupting holiday plans and causing many to rack up unplanned travel expenses, so if you’ve been personally victimized by the airline this holiday, here’s what you need to know about filing a cancellation complaint with USDOT.
The 2022 holiday season was slated to be a busy one for travel, but no one could’ve predicted there would be a historic winter storm that would lead to more than 6,000 flight cancellations and over 21,000 delays between Dec. 21 and Dec. 23. One of the worst offenders of the cancellation wave was Southwest Airlines, even after the holidays ended. According to the flight tracking website FlightAware, Southwest canceled nearly 2,700 of its flights on Tuesday, Dec. 27 (a whopping 64% of the company’s total flights for the day), and delayed another 1,050 flights, or 25% of its total flights. As of Wednesday, Dec. 28, Southwest has canceled over 2,500 flights (62%) for Dec. 28, and 2,358 flights (58%) for Dec. 29.
To put that in perspective, you can look at other airline cancellations following the bad winter weather. On Dec. 27, United Airlines had to cancel 79 of its flights, which tuned out to be about 3% of its total flights for the day, while American Airlines canceled 29, which was a negligible fraction of its total flights.
There’s no denying Winter Storm Elliott caused a massive shake-up across all major airlines. So, why has Southwest been receiving the brunt of the cancellation criticism? During a Dec. 28 appearance on Good Morning America, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called the Southwest situation a “meltdown,” and he said the company is “past the point where they could say that this is a weather-driven issue,” due to the fact that the rest of the aviation system cancellations were down to about 4% as of Dec. 28, while Southwest still had cancellation rates around 60%. “What this indicates is a system failure,” said Buttigieg.
The former mayor also advocated that Southwest provide “adequate compensation” to those affected by the schedule changes to cover accommodations like food and hotels. In a Twitter thread posted on Dec. 27, the USDOT reminded customers that “Southwest’s customer service plan commits the airline to providing meal vouchers and hotels where available to passengers who are experiencing significant delays and cancellations,” so if you’ve been shelling out your own cash on accommodations, you might want to read the company’s full customer service plan to find out how you can get those costs covered.
The staggering number of cancellations forced thousands to spend the holidays alone at the airport, and now there are even more travelers who don’t know if they’ll be able to make it back home in time to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. If you’re one of the thousands, here’s what you can do to file a complaint against Southwest with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
How To File A USDOT Complaint
According to a tweet from the official USDOT Twitter account on Dec. 27, affected customers can “visit [the] Office of Aviation Consumer Protection's website to learn more about [their] rights and file a complaint if needed.” The link provided in the tweet will take you to a page titled “Aviation Consumer Protection,” which details your rights as a traveler. To file a complaint, scroll down to the computer icon that says “File A Consumer Complaint” and click the link.
From there, you’ll be taken to a form titled “Air Travel Service Complaint or Comment Form.” Featured on the form is a section that will allow you to identify the airline you flew (or in this case, didn’t fly) with, and provide a description of the problem or leave an inquiry or comment. It’s not much, but it will give you a place to channel your anger.
You can also attach a file if you want to include proof of your cancellation. Keep in mind, you’ll also need to provide at least your name and email to submit your complaint. Also, don’t forget this form excludes complaints related to airline safety or security issues.
Your complaint won’t be a direct method to get a refund, but Buttigieg reiterated during his Dec. 28 GMA interview that USDOT will hold the company accountable for meeting their customer service commitments and “taking care of the expenses of those passengers.”
How To Rebook Or Request A Refund With Southwest
According to an email from Southwest to Elite Daily, customers can contact Southwest to rebook their flights or request a refund on the Travel Disruption section of the company’s website. To rebook a flight, click the “Rebook Flight” option under “Travel disruption information.” To check the status of your flight, click the “Check Flight Status” button next to it.
To request a refund, scroll down until you see the Requesting A Refund section. To submit your request, fill out a form with your full name and reservation number.
Why Is Southwest Canceling So Many Flights?
During a press conference on Dec. 27 in Houston, Southwest spokesperson Jay McVay claimed Winter Storm Elliott and the “challenges with [its] flight crews” that followed are to blame for the excessive cancellations. “The biggest challenge that we faced was incredible delays to the point where we had to cancel flights due to snow ... as the storm continued to sweep across the country, it continued to impact many of our larger stations,” McVay explained, adding that’s what led to the cancellations.
“As a result, we end up with flight crews and airplanes that are out of place and not in the cities that they need to be in to continue to run our operations,” McVay continued. According to NBC News, Southwest operates on a point-to-point flight route system, which means its planes pick up different crew members along the way while flying consecutive routes. Per NBC, when an airport goes offline due to weather and a flight can’t reach its destination, the point-to-point system has a cascading effect on delays and cancellations, and the recent winter storm was no exception.
Though McVay denied the company’s response to the weather was tied to a larger infrastructural issue, many people on Twitter pointed out that airlines received $54 billion in aid in 2020 (from which Southwest received $7 billion, per CNN) and claimed they didn’t use that to investing in infrastructure. Elite Daily reached out to Southwest for comment on the claim, but didn’t hear back at the time of publication.
Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan addressed the troubles surrounding the airline in a video statement posted on the airline’s website on Dec. 27. In the statement, Jordan echoed McVay’s sentiments about a “highly complex” network. “After days of trying to operate as much of our full schedule across the busy holiday weekend, we reached a decision point to significantly reduce our flying to catch up,” Jordan said in reference to the cancellations.
Jordan also expressed that the events of the past week are proof the company needs to double down on its “already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances.” It’s not clear what those upgrades will look like, but Buttigieg also made plain in his interviews that there’s a lot more than financial compensation that needs to happen, telling GMA that Southwest needs to “find a way to rebuild trust and confidence.”