Southwest Airlines has become the target of much consumer ire and government criticism in recent days, being the airline with the most offenses amid this week’s continuing cascade of flight cancellations.
The disastrous air travel situation America finds itself in at present is a product of the after-Christmas travel rush, combined with extreme winter storms still wreaking havoc around the country.
In response, some other major U.S. carriers have announced plans to institute price caps on passenger airfares, especially for cities served by Southwest, with the notion of easing the financial strain on stranded travelers trying to reach their post-holiday destinations.
According to NBC News, American Airlines, United and Delta all said that they would put an upper limit on ticket pricing for all markets in which Southwest operates through Monday, December 2.
Yet, despite those statements, Google flight data reveals that the costs of one-way trips between impacted airports over the next several days have skyrocketed. For example, the outlet found that the cost of a one-way fare from Nashville to Denver (two heavily impacted Southwest hubs) on Friday started at nearly $700, while the price of a one-way ticket from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles started at more than $1,000.
Many flyers who have found themselves faced with paying ridiculously high fare prices like these have taken to social media to vent their frustrations.
Among them was Nashville resident Suzanne Durham, who told NBC News in a follow-up interview, “I couldn’t believe it was so expensive,” regarding the homebound flight from Boston that she booked aboard American Airlines after Southwest canceled her original flight. The airline hadn’t specified which fare class she was paying over $900 to fly in, but it turned out to be business class. “It wasn’t even first class,” Durham said. “They are absolutely price gouging, in my opinion.”
Transportation Secretary Buttigieg reacts to Southwest’s mass flight cancellations, stranding travelers, in an interview with @LlamasNBC:
“This has clearly crossed the line from what’s an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility.” pic.twitter.com/fOFPRlpdl1
— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) December 27, 2022
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has made it clear that the agency plans to hold Southwest accountable for the cost and inconvenience being borne by the thousands of customers who are being impacted by its flight cancellations this week.
In an interview with NBC News’ Tom Llamas on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “This has clearly crossed the line from what’s an uncontrollable weather situation to something that is the airline’s direct responsibility.”
“Nobody should be taking advantage of the situation,” Buttigieg opined. “You’ve got passengers who are stranded,” he said, “You got passengers who can’t get ahold of customer service. It’s an unacceptable situation and Southwest needs to step up, and again take care of their passengers and their employees, many of whom are in the same boat across the country.”
Buttigieg continued, “We’re really expecting airlines to go beyond the legal minimum and to do the right thing here,” saying, “At a minimum, there need to be cash refunds for the canceled flights, and they need to be taking care of passengers where they got stuck with meals, hotel compensation.”
The Transportation Secretary added, “It shouldn’t take an enforcement action from our department in order to get people taken care of or get them their money back.”
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