The US Department of Transportation assessed a $150,000 civil penalty against Southwest Airlines, alleging the Dallas-based carrier did not adequately respond to a large number of consumer complaints.
DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office finds that Southwest did not respond in a timely manner to many disability-related and other consumer complaints received between June 2011 and January 2012.
"When airlines receive complaints from passengers, we expect them to provide prompt responses that appropriately answer the specific complaints," says DOT secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. "This is an important part of our work protecting the rights of passengers, and we will continue to take enforcement action when necessary."
The agency says Southwest's responses were delayed due to "a problem with its website."
When the airline finally did respond, its responses did not contain information required by DOT, the agency says.
Southwest tells Flightglobal that it will only pay $35,000 because it already refunded $115,000 worth of tickets to affected customers.
Southwest says a "technical glitch" created unintentional "website routing errors" of customer complaints, resulting in delays.
Upon discovering the problem, the carrier "worked around the clock to provide a response to each consumer who had been inadvertently missed," Southwest says.
The carrier says it refunded the full ticket amount to every customer affected and put new safeguards in place to prevent similar future technical problems.