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DOT Fines Southwest for Stiffing Complainers

DOT Fines Southwest for Stiffing Complainers

Guess which U.S. airline was fined $150,000 for its inadequate response to customer complaints.

Unless you guessed Southwest — and you probably didn’t — you guessed wrong.

Yesterday, the DOT fined Southwest $150,000 for “not responding in a timely manner to complaints filed by consumers, including passengers with disabilities, and for not adequately responding to the passengers’ specific complaints in its responses.”

That’s right, Southwest. The airline that hangs its hat on its affable, customer-friendly demeanor. The airline whose designator on the New York Stock Exchange is LUV. Perhaps the last airline you’d expect to be brought up on charges of gross indifference to its customers.

The DOT’s news release quotes Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as follows: “When airlines receive complaints from passengers, we expect them to provide prompt responses that appropriately answer the specific complaints.”

All companies suffer from occasional service meltdowns. But in Southwest’s case, the lapse comes at a time when the company seems intent on reinventing itself, abandoning its folksy roots and fee-free ways in favor of the stick-it-to-the-customer business practices of the mainline carriers it used to ridicule. The indifference shown by the customer-relations department may be a symptom of a corporate-wide shift in focus.

The new Southwest. You’re still free to move about the country. But it’ll cost you more to do so. And if you have a gripe, you’re free to express it. Just don’t expect a timely response.

Reader Reality Check

Is the Southwest of today the same airline we’ve learned to love over the years?

  • Kris Caluwaerts

    I think history has proven it many times already. If you want to keep on growing you can’t do it with a lowcost model.

  • Jason Gerdon

    I’ve said this for some time, Southwest is no longer the “leader” it bills itself to me. In fact, I’d venture to guess their brand messaging is on the polar opposite end of what consumers say about them. Don’t get me wrong, Southwest is still OK, but they’re slipping up quite a bit. And they are definitely no longer the low price leader.

  • Graham A. Howarth

    Correct sir – expansion into Mexico etc all will require a change in business model

  • Usahim

    I have traveled on SWA three times in the last three years and each time there were some sort of issues … flight delay due to ground crews, mechanical issues and lost my luggage – for free haha.

    Now I just go on either US Airways or JetBlue depending on where I am going for work and have not had any incidents in over 2 years (knock on wood).