Southwest Airlines is ramping up its public relations efforts following the carrier’s disastrous end-of-year meltdown that resulted in thousands of canceled and delayed flights.
At the end of 2022, Southwest experienced a unique combination of events that started with a severe winter storm and then transitioned into other operational and systems-based challenges. These systems failures led to Southwest’s temporary implosion between December 24 and January 2.
Southwest’s meltdown was so extensive that it prompted Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to address the situation in a letter to the airline’s CEO, Robert Jordan.
“The level of disruption Southwest customers have experienced over the Christmas holiday and into the New Year is unacceptable. I want to reiterate … Americans expect when they purchase an airline ticket that they will arrive at their destination safely, reliably, and affordably,” Buttigieg wrote.
“We are going to be putting Southwest Airlines under a microscope in terms of their delivering these kinds of reimbursements and refunds to passengers,” Buttigieg said on the Today Show.
The move to win back and restore customers’ trust includes a 25,000 Rapid Reward points bonus for travelers whose flights were canceled and delayed for three or more hours in the aforementioned time period, according to Southwest.
The 25,000 reward points have a “base fare redemption value of over $300, have no blackout dates, can be used on any available seat, and never expire,” the Dallas-based airline said in a letter to customers.
Southwest’s fumble with customers over the holiday season and its subsequent efforts to fix its teetering relationship with travelers could cost the company big next quarter, according to Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth, who estimates a revenue drop of 9 points or roughly $515 million, based on current projections that include Southwest’s “gesture of goodwill” initiative.
Southwest will need to contend with the cost of refunds, rental cars, flights, hotels, and other internal expenses, like repositioning crews and planes.
“I know that no amount of apologies can undo your experience. For those who have requested refunds, reimbursements, and/or are waiting to be reunited with lost bag(s), those processes are being handled with great urgency, and we appreciate your patience,” Jordan said in his letter to customers.