Following the days of chaos apparently sparked by cascading failures in Southwest Airlines’ scheduling system, a Louisiana man who was unable to travel during the holidays is taking the airline to court.
Eric Capdeville says that he has not been refunded for his cancelled trip, in what is believed to be the first lawsuit filed against the airline since its massive breakdown in late December. He’s suing Southwest for breach of contract.
According to the lawsuit, Capdeville had tickets to fly Southwest on Dec. 27, 2022, from New Orleans to Portland, Oregon, with a connecting flight in Phoenix. He had booked the tickets in October. Upon seeing news reports of thousands of Southwest flights being cancelled from Dec. 23 onward, Capdeville learned that his own flight had also been cancelled and, according to the complaint, “his reservations and stay in Portland would be lost without reimbursement.”
Capdeville says that a customer service representative confirmed that his flights had been cancelled and that he was, essentially, out of luck.
“Despite the fact that Plaintiff could not take the flight he booked, and Defendant could not offer any comparable accommodations on another flight, Plaintiff was not given a refund, but was only offered a credit for use on a future flight,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit says that under Southwest’s own policies, he should have been given a refund. According to the complaint, Southwest’s contract of carriage provides that if the airline “cancels or fails to operate any flight according to Carrier’s published schedule, or changes the schedule of any flight,” Southwest will either move the customer to the next available flight, or refund the unused portion of the fare.
“Both Section 9 of the Contract of Carriage and paragraph 12 of the Customer Service Commitment clearly provide for either rebooking or a refund in the event that Southwest cancels a flight,” the complaint says. “Neither provision provides for any ‘credit’ for use on a future Southwest flight.”
The complaint also notes that Southwest policies provide that refunds be provided within seven days if tickets were bought with a credit card, and 20 days if the buyer used cash.
“Plaintiff was not given the choice of being transported on the next available flight at no additional charge,” the complaint says. “His flight was canceled and there were no alternative Southwest flights to accommodate him from the Trip’s origin to his destination. He had not used any portion of the ticket for his Trip. Thus, pursuant to the terms of the Contract of Carriage, Plaintiff is entitled to a refund of the fare for the entire Trip in U.S. Dollars to his original form of payment.”
The lawsuit recaps the disastrous late-December days during which Southwest Airlines experienced widespread ongoing flight cancellations and delays. The airline initially blamed bad weather, but when other airlines appeared to recovery fairly while Southwest’s issue continued to compound, it became clear that something else was contributing to the chaos.
“Southwest CEO Bob Jordan confirmed the airline needed to upgrade its legacy systems,” the complaint says. “The Department of Transportation also confirmed that the cancellations came about as a result of Southwest’s decision and actions.”
According to the lawsuit, Southwest instructed affected customers to submit requests for compensation.
“Southwest’s response to the internally created crisis was to suggest customers could submit receipts for flight cancellations from December 24, 2022 through January 2, 2023 for consideration reimbursement,” the complaint says.
This, according to the lawsuit, was illegal.
“Southwest’s Contract of Carriage mandates refunds in this situation as well as full compensation for incurred costs and resultant cancellations for the failure of the carriage contract,” the complaint says. “Southwest’s failure to provide prompt refunds for canceled flights violates not only its own Contract of Carriage, but also federal law.”
In addition to the breach of contract claim, Capdeville alleges that Southwest’s actions rendered the ticket he purchased unusable, and that under Louisiana law, he is entitled to interest as well as a refund.
“Under the law of Redhibition, Southwest is liable for return of the price of the ticket when it was paid plus interest from the time paid, the reimbursement of reasonable expenses occasioned by the sale and also for damages and attorney fees,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages or a refund pursuant to the refund provisions of Southwest’s contract of carriage, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
As Law&Crime previously reported, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg publicly urged Southwest CEO Bob Jordan to ensure that the company reimburse stranded and delayed customers.
A representative for Southwest told Law&Crime that the airline is committed to to making things right.
“There are several high priority efforts underway to do right by our Customers, including processing refunds from cancelled flights, and reimbursing Customers for expenses incurred as a result of the irregular operations,” the airline said in an emailed statement (emphasis in original). “We have a long and proud 51-year history of delivering on our Customers’ expectations, and we are committed to the all-important imperative of taking care of them during operational disruptions. In fact, on December 28, we launched a website to assist Customers with requesting refunds and reimbursements, and those requests are being processed and issued.”
Lawyers for Capdeville did not reply to Law&Crime’s request for comment in time for publication.
Read the complaint here.
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