The U.S. Department of Transportation has entered a Consent Order against Southwest Airlines for failing to provide timely dispositive written responses to written complaints involving disabled travelers under 14 CFR Part 382 and for failing to provide timely substantive responses to complaints involving scheduled service under 14 CFR Part 259.  SouthwestDOTConsentOrder    As the Department explained,

“Pursuant 14 CFR 382.155, carriers are required to provide a dispositive written response to a written complaint alleging a violation of Part 382 within 30 days of receipt of the complaint. An appropriate dispositive response must specifically discuss the complaint at issue, specifically admit or deny whether the carrier believes that a violation of Part 382 occurred under the circumstances, summarize the facts that led the carrier to its conclusion of whether or not a violation of Part 382 occurred, and advise the complainant of his or her right to refer the matter to the Department for an investigation.”

“Part 259 is a regulation requiring enhanced protections for airline passengers. Pursuant to 14 CFR 259.7(c), covered carriers must acknowledge receipt of written complaints regarding scheduled service within 30 days of receipt of the complaint. Within 60 days of the receipt of the complaint, the carrier must provide a substantive written response to the complaint.”

Southwest apparently experienced an inadvertent technical glitch whereby certain customer complaints were mis-routed during a seven-month period.  Interestingly, although the civil penalty was for $150,000, the Department gave Southwest credit for $115,000 of ticket refunds that Southwest “on its own initiative” gave to the passengers involved.   The Consent Order also imposed the Department’s typical cease-and-desist obligation on Southwest.