DOT is probing whether Southwest’s schedules were ‘unrealistic’ during holiday meltdown

A Southwest Airlines passenger jet lands at Chicago Midway International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on December 28, 2022.

Kamil Krzaczynski | AFP | Getty Images

The Transportation Department said Wednesday that it is in the initial phase of an investigation of Southwest Airlinesholiday meltdown and looking at whether the carrier’s schedules was unrealistic.

Southwest has said it canceled more than 16,000 flights between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31 as it struggled to recover from severe winter weather while executives said they had to cancel even more flights to steady the operation.

The company and labor unions have pointed to outmoded scheduling platforms that weren’t designed to handle the number of flight changes that occurred over that period.

“DOT is also probing whether Southwest executives engaged in unrealistic scheduling of flights which under federal law is considered an unfair and deceptive practice,” a DOT spokesperson said. “DOT will leverage the full extent of its investigative and enforcement power to ensure consumers are protected and this process will continue to evolve as the Department learns more.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has previously vowed to hold Southwest accountable for the disruptions, which left hundreds of thousands of travelers stranded.

“Our holiday flight schedule was thoughtfully designed and offered to our Customers with the backing of a solid plan to operate it, and with ample staffing,” Southwest said in a statement late Wednesday. “We will continue to cooperate with any inquiry or request from government oversight or elected officials. We’re acutely focused on learning from this event, mitigating the risk of a repeat occurrence, and delivering the hospitality and outstanding service our Customers expect from us.”

Southwest is scheduled to report results before the market opens on Thursday.

(With inputs from CNBC)