Southwest Airlines provided customers affected by rampant flight cancellations during the recent holiday season with frequent flyer points, a benefit that will accompany reimbursements for canceled flights.
The company, which announced plans to resume normal operations beginning on December 30, canceled roughly two-thirds of flights during the busy Christmas travel season, even after severe winter weather conditions that impacted the United States had subsided and other carriers had ceased canceling an abnormal number of flights.
CNN correspondent Pete Muntean obtained a message from Southwest announcing that customers whose flights were canceled or delayed for more than three hours had received 25,000 reward points, equivalent to approximately $300 in value. “Southwest experienced a unique combination of events that started with severe weather at our busiest airports and transitioned into other operational challenges,” the message read. “This caused unprecedented wide-scale cancellations and ultimately impacted your trip.”
It was not clear whether all Southwest customers will receive exactly 25,000 reward points. The company said that the handouts would accompany reimbursements and are meant as a “gesture of goodwill.” The points can be used on “any available seat” and “never expire.”
Share prices for Southwest, which also plans to reimburse flyers for meals, hotel accommodations, rental cars, and tickets purchased with other carriers, dropped 3% on Tuesday as executives implemented the efforts to win back dissatisfied customers. The firm’s stock has plummeted more than 17% over the past month.
Southwest uses a point-to-point route model that offers faster flights to residents of smaller cities rather than the hub model used by larger airlines, according to an analysis from The New York Times. One disadvantage to the former model is a lower availability of excess crew members in those smaller cities, leading to disruptions across the entire carefully managed network when flights are canceled or fail to arrive on time.
The company said in a Tuesday statement that officials “intend nearly all baggage delayed during the recent holiday travel week to be shipped or delivered by midweek.” The statement confirmed that affected customers would receive rewards points. “In the new year, the urgent work continues on planned improvements to processes and systems that will bolster the ability of Southwest to recover effectively in large-scale disruptions of our operational plans.”
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association President Capt. Casey Murray contended during an interview with Fox Business that the delays and cancellations could have been prevented. “Unfortunately, this has been a decade in the making. We have sounded alarm bells, we have tried to get them to change processes,” he remarked. “It’s a combination of processes, outdated technology, and infrastructure.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the “level of disruption” experienced by customers “unacceptable” in a letter to Southwest CEO Bob Jordan, and said his agency would use “the fullest extent of its investigative and enforcement powers” to guarantee reimbursements. Lawmakers such as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) criticized the official for neglecting to implement reforms they had previously suggested.
Sanders noted in a June letter that the airline industry received $54 billion in relief during the lockdown-induced recession and asked Buttigieg to make airlines “promptly refund passengers for flights that have been delayed over an hour,” as well as impose fines for “flights that are delayed more than two hours” and for “scheduling flights that they are unable to properly staff.”