Southwest passengers now get a $75 voucher for big flight disruptions

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Southwest Airlines has launched a new compensation fund for inconvenienced fliers, offering $75 vouchers to passengers whose flights are significantly delayed or canceled for a reason within the airline’s control.

The compensation fund is part of the airline’s $140 million settlement with the Transportation Department, following Southwest’s operational meltdown in December 2022. A mix of winter weather, holiday travel and failing Southwest scheduling systems resulted in nearly 17,000 canceled or significantly delayed flights, affecting 2 million passengers. Southwest agreed to pay the government $35 million and create a $90 million voucher fund for future fliers impacted by operational errors, on top of the $600 million it paid out in refunds and reimbursements to customers impacted by the holiday debacle.

While the original agreement terms slated the voucher program to start Tuesday, Southwest rolled out the fund April 16. Any passenger who arrives at their final destination three or more hours after the scheduled arrival time for domestic flights or six hours for international flights can request a $75 voucher. The money is available only for fliers facing snafus within Southwest’s control, such as a mechanical issue or swapping planes.

To receive the money, customers can fill out a form online. The request must be submitted within one year from the delayed or canceled flight. Southwest should get back to customers within 30 days, according to Southwest spokeswoman Laura Swift. The compensation fund is expected to run for three years.

Last week, the Biden administration announced new rules for airlines to strengthen passenger protection and increase transparency in the industry. Under the new regulations, airlines are required to streamline the refund process for canceled flights and abandon hidden fees by disclosing the price of surcharges for luggage and changes to reservations upfront.

While announcing those rules, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also mentioned Southwest’s vouchers as a customer service measure that could influence other airlines.

“This is the month when those vouchers as part of the Southwest settlement kick in, and Southwest will now, because we are making them, really lead the market on that,” Buttigieg said. “It’ll be very interesting to see what other airlines respond — not as punishment, but by way of competition.”

In a statement Tuesday, DOT officials said they will be “closely monitoring” Southwest’s program, requiring the airline to submit an annual report documenting the voucher expenditures over the next three years.

Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.

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