Southwest Airlines is being ordered to pay a $200,000 fine for failing to comply with federal rules for bumping passengers from oversold flights.
Department of Transportation investigators said they found numerous instances where Southwest denied boarding to passengers without following rules for bumped passengers.
“The Department of Transportation is committed to protecting the rights of airline passengers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We expect airlines to comply with our rules when they must bump passengers, and we will take enforcement action when they do not.”
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said, "we have agreed to the issuance of U.S. Department of Transportation's consent order regarding compliance with its rules on oversold flights. The alleged violations pertain to a small percentage of Southwest's flights; however, we take every violation seriously and are working to improve our procedures to ensure full compliance with DOT regulations. It's always our goal to provide the best possible experience for all of our customers."
The Transportation Department said it would waive $90,000 of the penalty if Southwest doesn't break the rules again in the next year. Also, Southwest can use $20,000 of the fine to develop ways to notify passengers of their rights and the airline's policy on overselling flights.
Federal rules require airlines with oversold flights to seek volunteers willing to give up their seats in exchange for pay. If the airline cannot find enough volunteers, passengers who are bumped involuntarily are entitled to a cash payment of as much as $800. In addition, passengers must be given a written statement about their their rights and told how the carrier decides who to remove from a flight, the agency said.